Losing third of its drinking water through leaky pipes, N.J. considers system upgrade

Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio testifies Wednesday at legislative hearing on water system upgrades. (photo by Phil Gregory)

Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio testifies Wednesday at legislative hearing on water system upgrades. (photo by Phil Gregory)

A legislative task force is examining how to ensure New Jersey has a safe and adequate drinking water supply.

Rutgers professor Dan Van Abs, a member of the New Jersey Clean Water Council, said pressure on politicians to minimize rates could be deterring government-owned providers from making proper infrastructure investments.

“People often oppose rate increases in part because low income and even moderate income households will be harmed,” he said during a Wednesday hearing. “The results are under-investment, which, in the long run, is a losing proposition. The systems will fail.”

Bob Brabston with New Jersey American Water Company, the largest investor-owned water supplier in the state, said the company is investing in infrastructure improvements.

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“Many of the water purveyors to whom we’re compared have rates that are much lower than ours, and we believe that’s largely driven by a failure to invest,” he said. “We believe that drives the public discourse in the wrong direction.”

Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, serves on the Hackettstown Municipal Utilities Authority.

“The private guys’ water rates, a penny per gallon, is about four times as much as what we’re charging,” he said. “So they have the revenue to do the work, and our municipal utilities for the large part may not be charging enough to make those investments. These investments are critical.”

Former Governor Jim Florio,  the honorary chairman of New Jersey Water Works, a group working to improve the state’s water infrastructure, said funding improvements depends on political will.

“If, in fact, you can lift the level of awareness of the public to the cost of not doing things, then there’s the capability of persuading people to make the decisions that are needed,” he said.

Meanwhile, leaky pipes spill almost a third of the water in the state’s aging distribution system.

The EPA has estimated it will take $8 billion of work by 2027 to ensure that the state has an adequate drinking water supply.

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