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Smith Bill To Fund Protection Of State’s Water Supplies Heard In Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Smith which would create the “New Jersey Clean Water, Drought Mitigation and Water Resource Trust Fund” to provide a stable funding source for Statewide and local water quality purposes was approved by the Senate Environment Committee today by a vote of 3-0.

“New Jersey’s clean water is absolutely vital to the continued health and vitality of the Garden State,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. “We need a stable funding mechanism to pay for the programs and projects that are essential in protecting and preserving our drinking water supply. By establishing this fund, we will ensure that we have the necessary economic resources to protect our natural resources today and into the future.”

The bill, S-969, would establish the “New Jersey Clean Water, Drought Mitigation and Water Resource Trust Fund” under the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which would be derived from a water consumption fee of four cents per thousand gallons consumed. The bill would also establish a water diversion fee of four cents per thousand gallons on water diverted for consumption purposes. According to Senator Smith, the bill would raise approximately $15 million to be dedicated to clean water programs, though the average household would experience a rise in their annual water bill of only $3.20.

“The yearly cost on residents is nominal, but will go so far in preserving our water supply for years to come,” said Senator Smith. “By contributing just a little extra in our annual water bill, we will be able to fund so many programs to improve and maintain New Jersey’s high water quality.”

Senator Smith noted that the bill specifies that moneys from the fund could be used for the costs of transferring water between public water systems during a drought or other water emergency; the acquisition of watershed and wetlands areas to protect existing water supplies; and the cost of projects to connect existing water supplies and provide for drought mitigation programs. He added that there is a provision within the legislation to ensure that money collected from the Highlands and Pinelands areas remain in the area for projects.

“For areas like the Highlands and Pinelands, we’ve already designated them in need of special attention, because so much of the State’s drinking water relies on their continued environmental safety,” said Senator Smith. “Under this bill, any money collected from residents of those two areas will be reinvested in projects that benefit the areas.”

According to Senator Smith, New Jersey needs a “rainy day” fund to prepare for our next drought or other type of water emergency, so that we aren’t caught by surprise when we are at our most vulnerable.

“Right now, New Jersey’s reservoirs are in good shape, but we have to remember that droughts are cyclical in nature, and it’s only a matter of time before the State finds itself in another water shortage,” said Senator Smith. “We need a ‘rainy day’ fund to prepare for tough times ahead. By promoting drought mitigation projects when we are flush with clean water, we can hopefully avoid the worst of any future droughts.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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