N.J. lawmakers say water quality data should be more accessible to the public

Clean water activists gathered outside the Prudential Center on Monday, August 26, 2019, demanding clean water amid the growing lead crisis in Newark as the city hosted the VMAs for the first time. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Clean water activists gathered outside the Prudential Center on Monday, August 26, 2019, demanding clean water amid the growing lead crisis in Newark as the city hosted the VMAs for the first time. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

New Jersey lawmakers want the state’s nearly 300 water utilities to provide more information about water quality and be held accountable for the data they publish.

State legislators conducted a hearing Tuesday amid an ongoing public-health crisis in Newark, where recent tests showed elevated lead levels in the drinking water of two homes.

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said it was crucial that the public has access to information about local water quality.

“We have to get to a point where all of this information is in one centralized location so we can make the harder decision,” Singleton said. “Quite frankly, the harder and more urgent decision is: We know we have a problem, and how do we fund and pay for fixing that problem?”

Debbie Mans, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said that most New Jersey water systems report information to the state under the rules of the Water Quality Accountability Act. But Mans added that some utilities have not reported data for 2018, and that just because a system has reported that it is in compliance with drinking-water standards does not mean the DEP agrees.

Chris Sturm, managing director for policy and water at the nonprofit New Jersey Future, said the state should more strictly enforce reporting requirements for water utilities.

“Could this act help prevent the situation we now have in Newark, with lead in drinking water and a public that doesn’t trust the water utility?” Sturm asked. “Could it have prevented what happened in South River, when folks woke up last summer and had brown water coming out of their faucets and then learned that the utility employee was falsifying information?”

Federal, state, and city officials are handing out free bottled water in Newark as they continue testing to determine the cause of the contamination there.

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