New Jersey Looks to $50M Bond Issue to Fund Stormwater Management

Tom Johnson | March 22, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Stormwater pollution has long been recognized as a huge problem in the Garden State, but an even bigger problem has been finding funds to deal with it

stormwater runoff
New Jersey may finally be coming up with some financing to tackle one of its most expensive and intractable pollution problems — the stormwater runoff that fouls water across the state.

A series of bills to address the stormwater situation is up for discussion today in the Assembly Environment Committee, including a bill (A-2890), sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), that would ask voter approval for a $50 million bond issue to help local governments manage projects to reduce pollution.

Stormwater management in the nation’s most densely populated state has long been recognized as a huge problem, but just how to deal with it has only recently emerged as a priority among policymakers.

During the Christie administration, the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered dozen of municipalities to manage their stormwater and combined sewer-overflow systems, a process requiring towns to plan better management of runoff.

The big impediment has been finding the money to fund the solutions. The federal Environmental Protection Agency pegged the cost of dealing with stormwater in New Jersey as $15.6 billion.

The $50 million bond issue would provide grants or loans to local governments to finance the cost of better managing stormwater runoff and combined sewer-overflow pollution. Although the amount is only a fraction of what is needed, advocates say it could jump start efforts to deal with the problem.

When storms occur, rainwater runs off roads, roofs, and parking lots into stormwater systems, carrying debris, bacteria, and toxic chemicals into waterways. In New Jersey, the problem is magnified when combined sewer-overflow systems mix runoff from storms with untreated sewage to foul streams and bays.

“This is a very serious problem that impacts our waterways and affects public health,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Finding a funding source for stormwater management also was identified as a priority for the Murphy administration, according to a transition team report for the new governor.

“The committee recommends that the Governor identify and pursue multiple financing strategies to address this issue, including consideration of a ‘pay-as-you-go’ approach with new revenue streams, bonding and other creative funding strategies,’’ the report concluded.

In a related matter, the transition committee also backed the creation of local and regional stormwater utilities, an idea incorporated into a pending Senate bill (S-1073), and subsequent user-fee collections to support infrastructure improvements.

Nationwide, there are more than 1,500 such utilities in more than 40 states. The idea has been floated before in New Jersey but had been blocked by the Christie administration.

Besides the bond issue, two other bills before the committee would authorize (A-2898) additional planning by local governments to control runoff that flows into Barnegat Bay, a distressed water body, and establish (A-2916) a pilot demonstration project in Ocean County.