Just last week, Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in New Jersey for a roundtable discussing lead water pipe removal across the country. Harris pointed to Newark, New Jersey as an example of success–replacing 23,000 lines alone.
According to the Associated Press, the Garden State is looking to take a step further in clean water efforts. Around 186,000 residents will be receiving correspondence from the state notifying them that their lead service lines will be replaced over the next decade. This is under a lead pipe mandate which was passed in July 2021.
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette states that the replacements would be a mix of homes, businesses, and other properties. New Jersey will also send tips to residents on reducing lead exposure. The letters will be sent by mail on February 22nd by the state.
One of the project’s problems is cost–homeowners are due to foot some of the bill.
The cost of replacement is likely to be distributed to utility ratepayers or homeowners. Under the 2021 law, publicly owned water utilities can pass the costs onto individual homeowners or through the base of ratepayers overall. Water utilities owned by private investors cannot individually bill homeowners and will spread the cost through the base of ratepayers under the law, the commissioner said.
Some of the cost could be taken down by the $1 trillion infrastructure package, with New Jersey getting $1 Billion over five years. LaTourette states that it would cost $30 billion to re-do its entire water system and has invited 3,000 water utility companies to stakeholder meetings to get federal funding.
As The Bergen Record points out, as the latest data shows least 186,830 lead lines still exist in New Jersey; that tally is only from the eastern part of the state. The total number of lead pipes is still unknown.
Providers still don’t know the makeup of 1 million water lines, some of which are more than a century old. Poor records — sometimes even no records — on the composition of decades-old pipes have hampered efforts to identify areas with the greatest concentration of lead and which customers are most at risk from a metal that can cause harm even at low levels.
Community activists are holding the state of New Jersey to their word that this ten-year project gets done.
“This is a time for us to be clear that our water is nonnegotiable,” said Pastor Willie Francois, of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville and president of the nonprofit Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. “I consider water a sacred right. I consider water a sacred resource. ... We shouldn’t have to worry about how this is poisoning us.”