(TRENTON) – Moving to address New Jersey’s aging water system infrastructure and the ongoing concerns of lead contamination in many cities across the state, Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Angela McKnight, William Spearman, Robert Karabinchak, and Anthony Verrelli sponsor a bill package advanced by the Assembly Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources that would create an inventory and replacement schedule for every lead service line in the State, and would remove public finance restrictions to expedite municipal government projects to replace lead service lines.
In 2019, at least 35 water systems in New Jersey contained dangerous levels of lead contamination, affecting more than 1.4 million residents. There are an estimated 350,000 lead service lines in New Jersey, disproportionally condensed in our cities and communities of color. Contributing to the more than 4,800 new cases of childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey, annually.
“Life-long health effects from lead exposure are not limited to the thousands of new cases New Jersey records annually but have defined daily life in New Jersey’s impoverished and minority communities for generations,” said Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “For these communities lead exposure is the silent epidemic that has never warranted a bold and unified response, until today. Our communities and our State share one common future, none of us are immune to the reverberating effects of lead poisoning. This legislation provides a path forward to guaranteeing every resident the right to safe drinking water.”
“Critical upgrades to New Jersey’s water infrastructure are needed to modernize a decaying water system and ensure safe drinking water for New Jersey residents,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Major cities and the most historic cities, such as Newark, continue to battle a lead crisis on top of the current public health crisis we find ourselves in. Lead contamination and aging water infrastructure will amount to a public health crisis, an environmental emergency, and have an impact on our roadways for future generations if we don’t take action and develop a plan now.”
The bill (A-5343) sponsored by Schaer, McKnight, Spearman, and Karabinchak would require each public water system (PWS) in the State to create an inventory of contaminated service lines and develop a replacement plan to eliminate lead services lines within 10 years. At the discretion of DEP, a water system could apply for a 5-year extension provided it demonstrates that the additional time is needed. To mitigate the financial burden, PWS’ will be authorized to disperse the cost through rate recovery.
“Water systems cannot go overlooked and we must continue to make drinking water as safe as possible,” said Spearman (D- Camden, Gloucester). “Updated infrastructure systems and a well thought out plan to replace any old service lines is very important and will help keep harmful lead out of our water.”
“Replacing the service lines is crucial, but we must also make sure that public water systems have the time necessary to make all the required changes,” said Karabinchak (D- Middlesex). “We must ensure that nothing is rushed and the proper changes are made at a high quality”.
The bill (A-5407) sponsored by Schaer, Karabinchak and Verrelli would amend certain public finance laws to remove restrictions on the ability of local governments and authorities to finance the costs of lead service line replacements. The bill would remove the current restrictions that require government owned utilities to undertake lead service line replacement as environmental infrastructure projects that are funded with loans issued by the Infrastructure Bank or the Department of Environmental Protection. This will allow municipalities and government-owned utilities additional flexibility in recouping the costs of replacing lead service lines.
“Replacing the old lead service lines is an absolute necessity to ensure drinking water is safer for everyone in the State,” said Verrelli (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “By removing some unnecessary restrictions, we can make the process easier and more efficient for utilities.”
The bill will now go to the speaker for further review.