Feds to Pour Another $75M Into NJ’s Drinking-Water, Sewage-Treatment Systems

Tom Johnson | October 20, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Latest EPA contribution brings agency total since 1989 to $2 billion, but is it a drop in bucket given depth of state’s water problems?

water wastewater
The federal government is funneling another $74 million to New Jersey to help finance improvements to water projects, primarily sewage treatment plants and systems that provide drinking water to the public.

The latest annual award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the state is on top of nearly $300 million already provided to New Jersey by the federal government to address problems at those facilities.

The money is sorely needed. Both wastewater treatment plants and drinking water systems face huge bills to protect water quality in the state. Their vulnerability was painfully demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when many of those facilities lost power, leaving them unable to properly treat sewage and to ensure safe drinking water supplies.

Some of the state’s biggest wastewater treatment plants dumped billions of gallons of untreated sewage into waterways. Many drinking systems also were affected, leading to boil-water advisories for 360,000 customers.

“Since 1989, the EPA has provided more than $2 billion for New Jersey water projects,’’ said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, in announcing the latest award. “This funding helps New Jersey communities upgrade their drinking water and sewage treatment systems, improving the environment and public health.’’

The bulk of the award — $57 million — will go into the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, which supplies low-interest loans for projects that make improvements to wastewater treatment systems, control pollution from rain water runoff, and protect sensitive bodies of water.

Another $17 million is allocated to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which also provides low-interest loans to finance upgrades to drinking water systems, particularly in small and disadvantaged communities.

The funds, however, barely put a dent into the fiscal problems both treatment plants and water systems are facing in the not-too-distant future. According to a 2013 report by a blue-ribbon panel on “Facing Our Future,’’ the state needs to invest up to $40 billion to fix aging treatment plants and drinking water systems.

The federal government is ramping up funding to address these problems. Earlier this month, the EPA said it would award $229 million to help make drinking water systems and sewage treatment plants more resilient in the event of big storms, such as Hurricane Sandy. The money will go to finance installing levees or dykes to prevent facilities from flooding and to put in portable pumps to avoid water damage.

On top of that, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated another $200 million to New Jersey, $65 million of which will be used to provide backup power to drinking water plants and sewage treatment systems in the event there are widespread power outages.

The state aims to achieve that goal by setting up an Energy Resiliency Bank that would fund projects, ranging from helping develop units that generate electricity and thermal power simultaneously to installing solar systems that would continue to provide energy even if the power grid shuts down to fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity.