With 1.5M people affected by lead water woes, N.J. asks Washington for help

Posted Jan 24, 2019

State leaders are turning to the federal government for help to replace the decades-old lead pipes and plumbing fixtures that deliver water to more than 1.5 million New Jerseyans.

In his State of the State address earlier this month, Murphy called the outdated infrastructure a national problem that requires a federal solution. The governor promised to work with New Jersey’s congressional delegation to find more federal funding for the Garden State’s water problems.

“More than 1.5 million residents — north, central, and south, rural and urban — are currently serviced by water with elevated lead levels," Murphy said. "We must leverage every opportunity to build a modern water infrastructure network that ensures the delivery of clean water to every child, and every family.”

High lead levels have been found in drinking water in NewarkTrentonBordentown and most recently in dozens of Bergen and Hudson townsserved by the private utility SUEZ.

In Newark, where more than 18,000 properties are served water though lead service lines, Mayor Ras Baraka recently penned an open letter to President Donald Trump, imploring him to invest in fixing America’s aging water infrastructure rather than pushing for a $5 billion border wall.

“It will cost an estimated $70 million to replace the lead service lines in Newark, hundreds of millions more to replace them in New Jersey, and an estimated $35 billion to replace all of the lead service lines in America,” Baraka, a Democrat, wrote in the letter. “Achieving this is possible only with financial help from the federal government.”

While speaking about the lead issue on WNYC’s “The Takeaway” Wednesday morning, Baraka said that Newark has already bonded money to go toward the problem, and that those funds are being supplemented with money from the state. The city plans to to replace the first 1,500 lead service lines beginning in March, but Baraka said the city will run out of money for the program without federal help.

Meanwhile in Trenton, Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th District) has begun seeking federal help for the troubled Trenton Water Works after being pushed by constituents during the midterm elections.

And Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th District) in 2017 introduced the bipartisan Lead-Free Schools Act, which redirects existing federal funding and amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to replace lead fixtures and pipes in schools. Gottheimer said he plans to reintroduce the bill this year, and that he is working closely with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th District) to bring more federal dollars to troubled water systems.

Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are the primary sources of federal funding for water infrastructure projects. All of those are affected by the ongoing federal government shutdown.

Still, plenty of people in New Jersey don’t think the state should give up on finding solutions beyond a federal bailout.

Gottheimer, for instance, has criticized Murphy and the state for not doing enough to make sure the water in New Jersey’s schools is lead-free. And he isn’t the only one who wants the state to take more action rather than waiting for federal help.

Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has urged Murphy and state lawmakers to find more state funding for upgrading New Jersey’s water infrastructure. Tittel estimates that it will cost at least $8 billion to replace all the lead pipes in the state’s homes and schools. He says the state cannot simply rely on the feds for help.

“The [New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust] is almost out of money and we are not getting money from the federal government, at least in the short term,” Tittel said. "This means it’s up to [Murphy] and the state legislature to come up with funding sources and pass lead monitoring and funding mechanisms.”

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment