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Completed Newark Lead Service Line Replacement Program Is A Model for Statewide Action

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#Lead
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02/11/22
Andy Kricun and Nicole Miller, Jersey Water Works co-chairs

The City of Newark has completed its innovative lead service line replacement program, replacing more than 23,000 lead lines. The program, as revised in 2019, serves as a model for lead service line replacement programs in communities across the state.

 

Jersey Water Works (JWW) congratulates the City of Newark on this historic success. Starting in 2019, JWW brought many partners together to come up with effective solutions to lead in drinking water. Via the JWW Lead in Drinking Water Task Force—and guided by the insights of stakeholders like Kareem Adeem, Director, Department of Water and Sewer Utilities, City of Newark—the recommendations of the Task Force provided a blueprint for the current lead service line replacement law. 

 

“Many thanks go out to Director Adeem and his team at the City of Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities, who worked tirelessly over the last several years to achieve this incredible success. As a resident, parent, business-owner, and community advocate in Newark, I understand the urgency families feel in getting the lead pipes leading to their homes replaced,” said Nicole Miller, JWW co-chair. “When the crews worked on our block, there was a palpable sigh of relief that one additional layer of worry could be removed. Though lead removal continues to be a primary concern for families throughout New Jersey, the sterling example that Newark has set can be a model for the state and the nation.”

 

“Congratulations to Mayor Baraka, Director Adeem, and the entire Newark team for this incredible accomplishment. The Jersey Water Works initiative is based on the strong belief that everyone, no matter where they live or what they look like, is entitled to safe drinking water and clean waterways,” said Andy Kricun, JWW co-chair. “Newark’s tremendous accomplishment to replace all of the city’s lead service lines in such a short amount of time is not only an important step forward in protecting the public health of its residents, but also a beacon of hope for the rest of the nation. Newark’s shining example shows that this can be done and must be replicated statewide and nationwide in order to protect our communities from lead poisoning.” 

 

“On behalf of the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force, I would like to congratulate the City of Newark for completing the Herculean task of replacing 23,000 lead service lines in less than three years,” said Tiffany Stewart, Esq., co-chair of the Task Force. “As co-chair of the Task Force and Assistant Director of Newark Water and Sewer Department during the project—in charge of state and federal environmental and legal compliance, community outreach, and post-construction water sampling—it was exhilarating to see government, contractors, and environmental groups pull together to make this happen.”

 

“The program’s success is no accident. Newark continually revised the program along the way to maximize participation, reduce overall costs, and improve efficiency,” said New Jersey Future Managing Director of Policy and Water Chris Sturm. “Statewide guidance should ensure that other drinking water systems utilize the lessons learned from Newark’s program, including eliminating customer fees, so that everyone can benefit from lead-free water regardless of economic status.”

 

“Replacing the lead service lines in the City of Newark was a public health crisis that was too important to wait the ten years it was predicted to take to replace all 18,000 lines,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. “That’s why I extended our Aaa bond rating to Newark, which enabled the City to obtain the necessary financing up front at reduced borrowing costs. I commend Mayor Ras Baraka and the City for meeting their goal of completing the work in three years. This shows what different government levels can accomplish when we work together and should be viewed as a model for other municipalities and government agencies to follow.”

 

“Countless municipal and County leaders, advocacy organizations, and State Legislators have worked in cooperation to craft a comprehensive solution to this silent epidemic,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer. “In Newark, Mayor Baraka has accomplished an unprecedented infrastructure project to protect residents from the life-long health effects of lead.”

 

“Newark has led the way in prioritizing lead service line replacement, demonstrating that everyone—regardless of income, race, or socioeconomic status—deserves the right to drink clean water,” said Senator Troy Singleton, Senate Majority Whip and champion of both New Jersey’s historic environmental justice law and lead service line replacement law.

 

In order for water utilities to most efficiently replace lead service lines, a significant number of customers must participate in the program. This allows the utility to take a block-by-block approach rather than a patchwork approach. Newark’s program initially required customers to pay a large fee to participate in the program, but once the City secured financing, it eliminated this fee and saw the number of participants increase dramatically. The City addressed another problem—access to private property in the case of negligent or absentee property owners—by passing a local ordinance that would allow the utility to access private property for the purpose of lead service line replacements without owner consent after a series of notifications. Further analysis of the program can be found in this JWW blog.

 

State legislation enacted in July 2021 (P.L. 2021, c.183, with Assemblyman Schaer and Senator Singleton as prime sponsors) provided the working framework for lead pipe replacement statewide, including many of the features that made Newark’s program a success.

 

“With the full support of Speaker Coughlin and Governor Murphy, I sponsored legislation to address New Jersey’s 350,000 lead service lines,” Assemblyman Schaer added. “Contaminated lines provide water to an estimated 1.4 million residents, contributing to New Jersey’s 4,500 annual cases of childhood lead poisoning. This legislation provides a historic $2.65 billion investment towards building a lead-free future.”

 

However, the law would still allow utilities to charge customers fees to cover replacement of the customer-owned portion of the line. This approach has proven to be unfair to lower-income families, as well as expensive and inefficient in practice. Utilities that do not have access to the type of financing available to Newark (such as its unique arrangement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) will need to use a combination of rate increases and NJ Water Bank financing with a principal forgiveness (grant) component. Additional provisions and best practices are detailed in a Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force report.

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