Trenton – Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Bob Smith and Senator Troy Singleton announced today that they will pursue an accounting of the progress in the implementation of the “Water Quality Accountability Act,” the landmark law intended to ensure the safety and reliability of the state’s drinking water.
Information from the State Department of Environmental Protection indicates that more than half of the state’s 290 public water systems covered by the law and serving approximately 3.5 million people have not fully complied with the law’s requirements. (As of October 2018.)
“The Water Quality Accountability law established a means to improve the water supply systems to ensure the safety and quality of the state’s drinking water,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland), who authored the 2017 law. “It is a blueprint to improve the reliability of the state’s drinking water with the early detection of quality issues, transparent reporting and by making needed infrastructure investments. It is a good law, but we may need to put more teeth in it.”
The Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Singleton, will hold a public hearing on the “impact and efficacy” of the law and what actions need to be taken to ensure the compliance, transparency, data collection and oversight of the public water systems covered by the law. The hearing will also determine what legislative actions or revisions to the law are needed.
“Water quality is an issue that affects all of us – from our cities to our smaller communities. According to U.S. EPA data, more than 1.5 million New Jerseyans are served by a water utility that has been cited for excessive contaminants since 2014,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “That is why this hearing is so important. It will allow the Legislature to get the information needed to determine the successes and failures in the implementation of the Water Quality Act, and what more still needs to be done. The ultimate goal is to ensure that our water systems are reliable, and that our drinking water is clean and safe.”
The 2017 law established new requirements for public and private water companies to modernize their systems, including timetables, water quality standards and reporting requirements. The Water Quality Act requires water companies to annually assess their infrastructure and develop a plan to identify and fund the most needed improvements.
“We need to modernize the state’s water systems with upgrades and repairs and make sure the standards are being maintained,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex), the chair of the Senate Environment Committee. “Much of the infrastructure was built in the 19th century and is now leak-prone, susceptible to water-quality problems, and expensive to maintain. We need to get a better understanding of our needs.”
The law requires water purveyors to create and implement an asset management plan by April of 2019, which includes a water main renewal program with a 150-year replacement cycle; a water supply and treatment program designed to inspect, maintain, repair, renew, and upgrade pumps, sources and treatment facilities, and certified asset management plans.
It also requires the submittal of a mitigation plan by purveyors that exceed a certain number of violations within any 12-month period. By 2022 and every 3 years thereafter, each purveyor must submit a report based on the infrastructure improvements taken, and to be taken, and the costs of those improvements.
The committee hearing, which will be scheduled at a later date, will likely include regulatory officials, utilities, water companies and independent experts, Senator Singleton said.