Bill Butler

$588 million to improve water in New Jersey
$83 million for projects in the Delaware River watershed

| June 2, 2022

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read of a host of problems with our water-supply system from lead pipes to aging water-treatment plants.

Yep, this story is about money because it takes heaps of money to address those issues.

New Jersey, home to lots of aging water infrastructure, has scored some significant help to tackle the problem.

People who have experience with finding the money for these improvements already are well aware of the low-cost loans available to water-supply companies or municipalities via state-revolving funds. That money comes from the federal government via Congress and the president and goes to the Environmental Protection Agency to be distributed to every state.

Each state has its own way of distributing those funds. Some, like New Jersey, have a complicated system of state grants and loans, which are combined with another set of low-interest loans handled by its I-Bank.

There was a celebratory gathering recently at the North Church Street Water Treatment Plant in Moorestown, N.J., in part because the improvements to this plant have been completed.

And to also celebrate because now there’s another string to tie up those financial packages.

Funding comes directly from the EPA, and a program established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, short form: WIFIA. 

WIFIA is not new, but it has previously targeted entities like San Diego’s water system. According to David Zimmer, New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (aka I-Bank) executive director, this is only the second time that WIFIA funding is coming to a state.

So there was a litany of movers and shakers in the environmental finance universe on site: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette; EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radika Fox; EPA Region 2 Administrator Lisa Flavia Garcia; Zimmer; as well as one of the beneficiaries of this new-ish money, Moorestown Mayor Nicole Gillespie.

They were gathered to announce $588 million that is being allocated across the state for 28 different projects, some of them going to projects in the Delaware River watershed:

In Trenton, replacing lead service lines, for $17 million.

In East Greenwich, installing a new filtration system, for $2 million.

One of the larger sets of improvements — $44 million — is for New Jersey American, which serves communities both in and outside of the watershed. 

Here in Moorestown, an upgrade to the water treatment plant, which had been shut down by NJDEP due to chemical contamination, for $20 million.

The goal here was to not just meet New Jersey standards but to exceed present requirements including a treatment for dioxane — a combination of hydrochloric acid and ultraviolet light.

This plant is one of three wells that Moorestown relies on, all deep wells drawing from the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy aquifer, explained Gillespie in a later phone conversation. 

Bill Baxter, the water superintendent for Moorestown, explained that drawing from deep wells increases the presence of heavy metals, so that was another facet that was upgraded.

The aquifer underlies the Coastal Plain of New Jersey. Recognizing the value of the aquifer, New Jersey DEP has set a limit on how much Moorestown can draw, so the town has a contract with New Jersey American Water to buy water from it.

All 28 projects will benefit from the combination of funding sources — in most cases most will still need to borrow, but the amount borrowed will be reduced to save millions of dollars.

Zimmer emphasized in his remarks that at the heart of the celebration was the collaboration among federal, state and local officials that makes it work.

The $588 million is not part of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

According to the Brookings Institution’s analysis of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, about $57 billion is planned to be invested in water infrastructure nationally over the next five years.

And Fox pointed out: “It’s the beginning of what is to come.”

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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