Federal Funding Should Bolster Resilience of Water-Treatment Plants

Tom Johnson | October 1, 2014 | Energy & Environment
EPA announces the awarding of $229 million to finance projects at drinking-water, sewage-treatment facilities

water wastewater
The state is getting a new infusion of funding from the federal government to help make drinking-water plants and sewage-treatment plants more resilient in the event of big storms, such as Hurricane Sandy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced the award of $229 million to New Jersey to fund such projects, which include installing levees or dykes to prevent facilities from flooding, putting in portable pumps to avert water damage, and deploying backup generators.

The money is on top of funds disbursed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which allocated $200 million to New Jersey, $65 million of which will be used to provide backup power to drinking water plants and sewage treatment facilities in the event of extreme storms.

During Hurricane Sandy, many of those facilities lost power, causing huge problems, including the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage into New Jersey’s waterways. Hundreds of water supply systems also were affected, leading to boil-water advisories affecting 360,000 customers.

The Christie administration has identified keeping those facilities operating smoothly during such events as a top priority. Earlier this week, the state Board of Public Utilities took steps to create an Energy Resilience Bank to help promote that effort.

The latest round of federal funding is geared to the same cause.

“This EPA funding will help make New Jersey wastewater and drinking water plants more resilient,’’ said Region II EPA Administrator Judith Enck in a press release issued by the agency. “These funds will help ensure that the basic infrastructure needed to protect people’s health are operating during severe storms.’’

The top-priority projects deal with those systems that protect water quality and drinking water, according to EPA.

Dozens of drinking-water facilities, as well as hundreds of projects dealing with wastewater plants, many which involve the same facility, are on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s priority list submitted and approved by the EPA.

Exactly how many of those projects will be funded and at what level remains to be determined. Efforts to reach David Zimmer, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Trust, the state agency disbursing most of the funds, were unsuccessful.

Some are big-ticket items. New Jersey American Water wants to raise the level of the floodwalls surrounding one of its treatment plants. The Passaic Valley Water Commission is looking to install four diesel generators and fuel pumps at one of its facilities in Little Falls.

For sewage treatment plants, the federal money also will provide funds to deal with combined sewer overflow systems, a problem that has long caused pollution in times of heavy rainfall, when stormwater and wastewater overwhelm the capacity of treatment plants, leading to the discharge of raw sewage in the state’s waterways.

In New Jersey, the BPU plans to target money to both drinking-water facilities and sewage-treatment plans to allow them to continue operating even if the regional power grid goes down. Those projects may include an assortment of distributed generation facilities — able to produce power to drinking-water plants and sewage-treatment operations even if there are widespread outages on the grid.

Those projects would include more efficient power plants to supply those facilities, efforts to make solar energy work even if the grid goes down, and possible use of energy storage, a still developing technology.