By Brenda Flanagan
Replacing one mile of four-inch water main in Perth Amboy means digging up the street, then shoveling out dirt, clay and slop, yanking the century-old cast iron pipe and replacing it with an eight-inch ductile iron line.
“It’s a better material, lasts longer, it has a cement lining and hopefully will last another hundred years,” said Luis Perez Jimenez, Utility Service Affiliates superintendent.
“It’s extensive, the work that they’re doing right now, currently. And it just has to get done. It has to get done. It’s expensive,” said Perth Ambly Mayor Wilda Diaz.
Very expensive. This project cost Perth Amboy a million and a half bucks — money it borrowed from the state. But ignore old pipes and they crack like a water main break in Hoboken. Moreover, big cities can lose 20 percent of their clean water to leaks. But a recent engineering study put an $8 billion price tag on repairing all of New Jersey’s drinking water infrastructure. It always boils down to money.
“If you don’t invest in infrastructure, you know, at some point it’s going to come back and bite you,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.
To help pay the bill, Pallone’s introduced legislation to infuse an extra $25 billion into the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund — $5 billion a year over five years. It hasn’t been updated since 2003.
“So little has been done on the federal level, over the last 20 years, that frankly I think it’s almost disgraceful. Because obviously the state of New Jersey or any state and municipalities like Perth Amboy can’t afford to do this on their own,” Pallone said.
The money would also authorize millions of dollars in grants for climate resiliency projects and lead pipe replacements. It wouldn’t pay for upgrading waste water treatment. Perth Amboy’s still on the hook for fixing its problematic sewage overflows, which end up in Raritan Bay. But replacing all the ancient, four-inch drinking mains could cost $4 million to $5 million.
“It is very costly. And right now, the state of New Jersey doesn’t have the funding, and I’m hoping that if this bill is passed in Washington, towns like Perth Amboy will benefit, so we can continue to make the improvements,” Diaz said.
Pallone’s bill will be debated in committee within the next couple of months. But then it must win passage from a Congress that’s had a very tight grip on the federal purse strings.