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Coalition Hopes to Pressure Christie Administration Into Releasing New Water Plan

Concerned that current plan is 20 years out-of-date, group wants governor’s office to publish plan it’s been sitting on for a year

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Worried that the state is not planning adequately to meet future water demand, a new coalition is launching a campaign to push the Christie administration to release a long-completed master plan dealing with water supply issues.

The plan was written by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but has yet to be made public by the governor’s office where it has been stalled for more than a year.

The absence of a plan is problematic. The state has grown significantly since the last revision nearly two decades ago in 1996; demand on water resources continues to increase; and an aging water infrastructure is in need of up to $40 billion in improvements, according to the members of the Save H20 New Jersey Coalition.

The failure to make the plan public irks conservationists, legislators, and members of a special state advisory council dealing with water-supply issues, but efforts to get the administration to release the plan have been to no avail.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP, offered few clues when it might be forthcoming. “I don’t have a timeframe when it will be released,’’ he said.

Without proper planning now, New Jersey could face similar problems supplying water, including drinking water, that other states are now experiencing, the coalition argued.

“There’s a very good example of what poor planning looks like -- it’s California,’’ said Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), the chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, which held a hearing on the plan last April. “California is running out of water because no one is concerned about demand outstripping supply. The same thing could happen here in New Jersey.’’

Of special concern to the coalition is protecting supplies of the state’s drinking water, an issue in both the New Jersey Highlands, which supplies 5 million residents, and in South Jersey, where water deficits are occurring in number of watersheds.

“The water-supply plan needs to be updated with current data so that New Jersey can make smart decisions now to ensure that we have enough clean water to meet all of our needs in the future,’’ said Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC).

One of the more critical problems involves drinking water; estimates say the state needs to invest $8 billion in its aging water system to meet customer needs. With a sizable chunk of the state’s drinking water systems antiquated and in poor repair, as much as 20 percent of treated potable water is lost through leaks before it ever gets to customers.

“Our drinking-water policy and planning need an upgrade,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Unfortunately for the people of New Jersey, this governor has shown a calloused lack of concern for our drinking water. It’s time for him to act.’’

To promote their cause, the coalition plans to lobby local leaders and officials throughout the state to highlight the need to release the plan and update policies dealing with water.

Another $16 billion is need to address wastewater treatment plans and at least that much to prevent stormwater from fouling waterways, according to various studies Few concrete ideas have been floated to deal with those concerns.

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