Home>State Government>Opinion: Let’s Commit to More Investment in New Jersey’s Water Infrastructure

Opinion: Let’s Commit to More Investment in New Jersey’s Water Infrastructure

By Kate Gibbs and Ed Potosnak, January 10 2023 12:31 pm

OPINION

Access to clean water is essential, but not guaranteed. The network of pipes and systems that keep water running across New Jersey are in need of substantial upgrades. The good news is, in June of last year, Governor Phil Murphy signed a state budget that included a $300 million allocation of New Jersey’s share of the American Rescue Plan funds to water infrastructure.  

The funding will be used to address combined sewer overflows, contamination in private wells, and water infrastructure resiliency. This additional funding is a laudable first step in addressing New Jersey’s clean water funding gap and putting our state on the path to a healthier and more affordable future, but there is still much work to be done.  

For perspective, some of New Jersey’s pipes haven’t been upgraded since they were constructed before the American Civil War.  Communities all over the state are contending with how to replace lead pipes, remove harmful cancer causing “forever chemicals” from drinking water supplies, while also needing significant investment in tackling stormwater issues that are only getting worse as the occurrence of extreme weather increases.  

In all, New Jersey’s estimated water infrastructure needs a total of $30 billion over the next 20 years.  Worst of all, without increased and continued large scale investment from the state and prudently deploying federal dollars, these costs will be paid for solely by rate-payers and local property tax-payers throughout the state – and concerningly most economically disadvantaged communities will shoulder disproportionately greater costs.  

While the challenge, in some ways, may feel abstract, water infrastructure has a very real daily impact on the lives of New Jerseyans. Consider the student who can’t drink out of a water fountain because water is delivered to a school through lead pipes or the local business that is flooded because stormwater systems cannot handle a moderate rainstorm, or the family that struggles to afford their water bill because of skyrocketing rates to replace leaking or lead lined pipes.  

That’s why it is so heartening to see that Governor Murphy and the State Legislature have committed additional funding in this year’s budget and have worked quickly to move those dollars toward advancing shovel-ready projects. Combined with the Federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have an opportunity to make a truly transformational impact on the lives of all New Jersey residents for generations to come. That is why we’re calling on the Governor and State Legislature to commit to additional funding for water infrastructure.  

By investing another $700 million over the next two years, New Jersey could cover a quarter of the total ten-year cost of replacing lead service lines statewide, making a significant dent in the total investment needed to remove “forever chemicals” from our drinking water, upgrade our inadequate stormwater systems, and provide over a quarter of the total cost of fixing combined sewer systems.  Additionally, making these investments will create over 13,000 jobs statewide and an additional $2.9 billion in economic benefits. The combination of state and federal funds is a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure our children and grandchildren inherit modern infrastructure they need to safely learn, work, and raise their families.

New Jersey has a wide array of tools at its disposal including $1.4 billion in remaining American Rescue Plan funding, advocacy for additional federal funding for lead service lines, and sustained funding in the state budget to make this transformational change a reality, but the key is making the commitment today. Investing in clean water is a commitment to affordability, the health of our families, and our state’s economy.  

Kate Gibbs is Deputy Director at Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative (ELEC 825).  ELEC promotes economic development, infrastructure investment, and construction industry education to provide opportunities for developers, union contractors, and members of Local 825.  Ed Potosnak is the Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to elect environmental champions, hold public officials accountable, and support laws which protect our environment and improve the quality of people’s lives.

 

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