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Legislator: Our mission is for everyone in New Jersey to have clean drinking water | Opinion

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Senator Linda Greenstein | November 12, 2022 | Star-Ledger |


Many of our communities face challenges that threaten their health and safety due to polluted drinking water. Water quality issues affect all of us. My colleagues and I have worked with health professionals and scientists to develop the best course of action to be taken.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to co-chair the Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure. The task force took testimony from various stakeholders and concluded that lead service lines, combined sewer overflows, and flooding threaten New Jersey residents’ health, safety and economic well-being.

Being co-chair of the task force helped spark my interest in this issue and allowed me to introduce bills and advocate for their passage to make New Jersey’s water infrastructure more reliable, safe and sustainable. I am able to continue this work through my vice-chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

For example, I first introduced legislation last session, now Senate bill 294, that would create a Water Infrastructure Center at an institution of higher education here in New Jersey. The purpose of such a center would be not only to conduct and house research and policy suggestions but also to help make it easier for residents to access data and other metrics related to their own water supply.

Something I’ve also started to work on this year is developing water quality legislation limiting exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

PFAS, at certain concentrations, can pose a risk to public health and the environment. Unfortunately, millions of Americans unknowingly drink PFAS-contaminated water every day, so we have to address this issue like other serious hazardous substance spills.

What I’m working on is a cohesive, top-to-bottom approach aimed at tackling this pervasive substance on all sides: restricting the use of these chemicals in products that have safer alternatives, giving the state the resources to study and address existing contamination, and more.

One of the PFAS bills I recently introduced, S3179, would require landlords to provide notice of elevated PFAS levels in drinking water. Another, S3180, would require certain water purveyors to identify and use alternative water supply sources when PFAS levels get too high. We know that PFAS pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of New Jersey residents. That’s why it is truly imperative that we act now.

In the wake of numerous reports highlighting Trenton Water Works’ failure to meet basic water quality needs, my colleagues and I have been working closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection to resolve these outstanding issues and ensure safe drinking water for Mercer County families.

For years, I have been involved in discussions regarding Trenton Water Works’ ongoing struggles. I’ve drafted legislation, spoken with community advocates, and pushed for common-sense policy. Trenton Water Works provides drinking water to Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell Township, Lawrence and Trenton. Residents in these towns should never have to boil their water to protect themselves.

I applaud DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette’s recent decision to have the state take over direct operational oversight of Trenton Water Works because this 200-year-old utility is currently failing to deliver millions of gallons of water safely to residents each day. As important as this step is, I’m actively working with the DEP to find legislative solutions that further safeguard this water supply’s future.

Sadly, New Jersey’s aging water infrastructure problems go a lot further than those at the water works. Recently, lawmakers and I were shocked to learn that the funding provided for state lead pipe replacement was severely lacking.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is distributing $15 billion nationwide through the federal infrastructure bill to help states replace their lead service water lines. The formula used to distribute the $15 billion has shortchanged New Jerseyans, providing just $48 million — or $138 per lead line replacement — while EPA estimates the average cost for replacing a lead service line is $4,700 per line.

With 48 states set to receive more funding than New Jersey, $138 per lead line is unacceptable, as logic would dictate these funds be distributed to states with the most lead service lines, i.e. the highest areas of need. In response to this shocking error, I penned a letter to the EPA, alongside my colleague, Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), to share our fierce opposition to the disproportionate funding formula. We eagerly await their reply.

Over the last few years, New Jersey has established a reputation for enacting bold, justice-centered policies that equitably safeguard the health of all New Jerseyans. I am very committed to strengthening clean water protections and addressing this public health crisis. Everyone should be able to drink water from his or her tap, but for a lot of families, that is not the reality.

There is not a single, simple solution to address our water quality issues. However, I am confident that, in collaboration with my colleagues, we will continue to work together to protect this basic right.


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