Nearly 20 percent of New Jersey’s population resides in communities with combined-sewer outfalls (CSOs). These older urban communities are densely populated, job centers, and tourist destinations. During heavy rainfall combined-sewer systems get overwhelmed and overflow a combination of sewage and stormwater into area waterways. While these communities are in the process of developing plans to reduce or eliminate combined-sewer outfalls, residents and visitors need to be informed about the outfalls and occurrences of overflows, and warned to avoid contact with waterways for at least three days after it rains.
The Jersey Water Works Community Engagement Committee sought to come up with signage that could be used by towns, organizations and individuals to educate the general public on combined-sewer overflows. A subcommittee made up of representatives from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, the North Hudson Sewerage Authority, the state Department of Environmental Protection, non-profits and community groups worked on a concept and different scenarios under which the signs could be used. The committee worked with Damon Rich of HECTOR, an urban design, planning and civic arts studio, to develop a series of images for signs, with text in Spanish and English, that could be used in different settings and communities. Several permit holders were surveyed to ensure that the end product would be easy and affordable to print and could be used in multiple settings, and then the NJDEP reviewed the content.
A full installation includes three components: a warning, explanation (full and simplified), and contact information. The images can be used together on one sign or in a variety of combinations. For example, the full installation can be used at a riverfront park with an outfall, a fishing pier or at a boat/kayak/watercraft launch.
The explanation signs shows show a combined –sewer system on a clear day, a rainy day and a rainy day with improvements and close-ups for the improvements that individuals can make to reduce sewer overflows, including a rain barrel and rain garden, and what cities and utilities can do, including separating storm and sanitary sewers, replacing old pipes, and building more parks. This version, along with the informational module, could be posted in areas that do not have an outfall but affect a combined sewer system, like a park in a sewershed.
These educational signs complement the warning signs at each CSO outfall that combined sewer system communities have installed to comply with permit requirements as part of the NJ CSO permit Long Term Control Plan. Continuing to educate the affected public on CSOs is part of permit holders’ obligations. These images can also be used on leaflets, flyers and signs with general information at areas near a CSO, like beaches, fishing piers, parks and other places within 100 feet of an outfall. As communities continue to work on green and gray infrastructure solutions to address CSOs it is important for the public to know what CSOs are, what precautions should be taken, and where more information can be found.