Award-winning data tools reveal that half the state’s population live in areas served by water systems with at least some identified lead service lines.
TRENTON, March 22, 2022 — After receiving more than 50 applications from across the country, on Monday the Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) announced the six winners of the Water Data Prize. Jersey Water Works (JWW) and New Jersey Future (NJF) won the award’s Equity category for their development of the New Jersey Water Risk and Equity Map and Jersey WaterCheck.
Both tools have become critical resources for New Jersey community members during a time at which many New Jerseyans are becoming increasingly aware—and concerned about—issues like lead exposure, contaminated drinking water, and water affordability. While especially prevalent in low-income communities and communities of color, these issues are also pervasive throughout the state. In 2020, 65 water systems indicated the presence of approximately 114,000 known lead service lines, exposing some portion of 4.8 million residents who live in these service areas. Furthermore, at least 20% of the households within nearly half of those water system service areas (27 out of 65) face some level of water affordability stress.
However, data displayed on Jersey WaterCheck shows that progress is being made. Almost 10% of water systems with lead lines reported fewer lead service lines in 2020 than they did in 2019, indicating that lead service line replacement efforts were well underway. Trenton Water Works, for example, replaced more than 4,000 lead service lines in 2019 and 2020.
“Frequently, BIPOC and overburdened communities are an afterthought regarding access to vital resources,” said Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds, Jersey WaterCheck Data Advisory Committee and Water Risk and Equity Map Subcommittee member. “Thus, aside from being timely, the New Jersey Water Risk and Equity Map and Jersey WaterCheck serve as beneficial tools that can be used—not only by academia and decision-makers, but by community members as well—to display critical data pointing out those most impacted and where much-needed resources should be allocated, while hopefully reducing and eliminating disparities.”
“New Jersey public water systems are facing many expensive issues—lead service lines, PFAS/PFOS contamination, new laws regarding asset management, and more—that will force serious decisions about revenue needs and affordability,” said Daniel J. Van Abs, Jersey WaterCheck Advisory Committee member. “Until Jersey WaterCheck was created, information about these issues was either non-existent or hard for the public to access and compare. The program’s most critical benefit is tying together many types of information to allow public understanding of a complex situation. This award recognizes the value of Jersey Water Works’ long efforts and value to New Jersey.”
The announcement of the award comes just one month after the City of Newark’s completion of its lead service line replacement program, positioning New Jersey at the forefront of water equity in the U.S. yet again.
“New Jersey could become the first state in the nation to replace all of its lead service lines. But that will require hard work, funding and more data transparency, and we are grateful for the encouragement of the Water Data Prize,”said New Jersey Future Managing Director of Policy and Water Chris Sturm. “New Jersey is becoming a national water leader where water advocates, experts, and local officials work together to innovate on tough problems like removing lead from drinking water.” Sturm and other NJ advocates are pushing for more funding to close the gap on critical water infrastructure needs.
New Jersey Future congratulates all of the Water Data Prize winners, including Overall Winners CDM Smith and the City of Newark.
The following Jersey WaterCheck Data Advisory Committee members assisted with the creation of Jersey WaterCheck and continue to provide ongoing guidance:
The following Jersey Water Works Water Risk Equity Map Subcommittee members assisted with the creation of the Water Risk Equity Map: