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Assemblyman: Water Companies Need to Rehabilitate Infrastructure

Upendra Chivukula discusses providing reliable water service.

To the Editor:

Recently, I was at New Jersey American Water’s Canal Road Water Treatment Plant to discuss New Jersey’s Water infrastructure organized by the Somerset County Business Partnership and New Jersey American Water. I was thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts as an engineer who worked in the industry for 30 years and became a policymaker and chairman of the Assemblyman Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.

One of the important outcomes of the session was the need to accelerate the replacement and rehabilitation of this critical infrastructure using a BPU program that can be used by water companies to address aging infrastructure in a way that is both accelerated and financially prudent to rate payers.

A report written by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) entitled "Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge," describes what most water professionals already know.

The nation’s drinking water infrastructure—the more than 1 million miles of pipes beneath our streets, that deliver safe water to America’s homes and businesses—is aging and in need of significant reinvestment. Like many of the roads, bridges and other public assets on which the country relies, most of our buried drinking water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago, in the post-World War II era of rapid demographic change and economic growth. In some older urban areas, many water mains have been in the ground for a century or longer.

AWWA estimates restoring existing water systems as they reach the end of their useful lives and expanding them to serve a growing population will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years, if we are to maintain current levels of water service. In the northeast, the figures approach $200 million.

Delaying the investment can result in degrading water service, increasing water service disruptions and increasing expenditures for emergency repairs. Ultimately we will have to face the need to “catch up” with past deferred investments, and the more we delay the harder the job will be when the day of reckoning comes.

Given its age, it comes as no surprise that a large proportion of U.S. water infrastructure is approaching, or has already reached, the end of its useful life. The need to rebuild these pipe networks must come on top of other water investment needs, such as the need to replace water treatment plants and storage tanks, and investments needed to comply with standards for drinking water quality.

They also come on top of wastewater and storm-water investment needs which—judging from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) analysis—are likely to be as large as drinking water needs over the coming decades.

Moreover, both water and wastewater infrastructure needs come on top of the other vital community infrastructures, such as streets, schools, etc.

So it is important that our regulators have approved a mechanism to address investments needs as some of our surrounding states have done, but it is even more important how it is utilized to strengthen our infrastructure and better prepare New Jersey to compete with neighboring states.

We need to understand the importance of a healthy water infrastructure in a number of contexts, including the environment, economic growth and jobs. The treatment and delivery of this water is vital to the many industries across the state.

With the full implementation of the new BPU program, the distribution system improvement charge, not only will the industries benefit from the extra work, but also residents in NJ will be the biggest beneficiaries. They will benefit from knowing that, with newer infrastructure in place, failure of that infrastructure is greatly reduced, the service they are paying for will be more reliable. The state will also benefit because it will be another tool to market the state as a place to do business, a state that is serious about ensuring reliable water service to all, a state that is moving to address a problem before it is too late.

Sincerely,

Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula

Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula is a Democratic legislator in New Jersey’s 17th District, and has been involved in politics for more than 18 years. He is challenging Republican Leonard Lance for the US Congress seat in the 7th District.

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