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Key Points Made at Ninth Annual Jersey Water Works Conference

#Featured Articles,
#Climate Resilience,
#Community Engagement and Partnerships,
#Green Infrastructure/Stormwater Management,
#Lead,
#Smart CSO Control Plans,
#Workforce
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01/11/24
Paula Figueroa-Vega, Director, Jersey Water Works Collaborative

Members of the Jersey Water Works collaborative shared an incredible amount of important information at the ninth Annual Jersey Water Works conference on December 13, 2023. Over 200 participants gathered at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ, to learn from the water sector’s leaders, experts, and advocates on different topics that catered to the needs and interests of the diverse stakeholders that make up the JWW collaborative. Participants forged new connections and reinforced old connections. Even after the conference adjourned, many stayed behind, engaged in long conversations. 

During the conference, Nicole Miller, MnM Consulting and Steering Committee co-chair, invited everyone to join her in reflecting on the group’s achievements over the past year. She then asked the audience about their main worries regarding water infrastructure. PFAS was the clear winner, followed by flooding, funding, contamination, lead, and equity. Nicole invited everyone to join a committee and continue the collaborative work that the JWW has been doing. Overall, the ninth Annual Jersey Water Works Conference provided attendees with a wealth of information and insights to inform their work in the new year.

The conference consisted of a track focused on lead service line replacement implementation, six sessions, and a general session. Read further for topic specific information: 

Lead Service Line Replacement: To provide timely information and resources to the people working on lead service line replacement, eight experts from the field facilitated the Drinking Water Utility Track: Beyond the Initial Inventories; Identifying unknowns, Complying with LCRI, LCRR, and NJ State Laws. More than 60 people attended this session which was coordinated by Deandrah Cameron, backbone staff for the Drinking Water Task Force and the Lead Service Line Replacement Implementation group. The information and insights provided by peers and experts in the field aimed at supporting New Jersey drinking water systems with the planning, executing, and troubleshooting components of project management around lead service line replacement. With the partnership of New Jersey Water Association, the team was able to provide credits to 45 utility staff members whose ultimate goal is to remove all New Jersey lead service lines by 2031. Click on the title of the session to access over 100 slides of information. 

Shared Services, Funding Navigator: Representatives from the Department of Community Affairs presented in the Exploring Shared Services: Why, How, Examples breakout session. They highlighted funding available for municipalities to engage in exploring or facilitating shared services agreements. The Local Efficiency Achievement (LEAP) program was established in 2019 to support the Shared Services Program with the goal of providing high-quality government services at reduced taxpayer costs. LEAP provides the opportunity to incentivize shared services implementation. LEAP consists of three primary components: up to $150,000 in Challenge Grants, up to $400,000 in Implementation Grants, and up to $75,000 in County Coordinator Fellowship Grants. The FY2024 Program Guidelines and Applications can be found on the website, and Laurie Ann Doyle, the LEAP Grant Administrator invites anyone interested in the grant or anyone with questions to contact her directly at Laurieann.doyle@dca.nj.gov.

During the session, participants also heard from Lee Clark, Funding Navigator Program Manager at New Jersey Future. The Funding Navigator program seeks to build a bridge to meet the needs of overburdened communities, their municipalities, and small-to-medium-sized water systems in accessing funding. A welcome to the session was provided by Lauren Rosenthal McManus, who utilizes her art as a form of engagement to bring awareness about water. Notably, the cover of the program book featured an image from her. 

Green Infrastructure, Smart Combined Sewer Overflow Plans: In the Green & Gray: Solutions to Manage Stormwater and CSOs session, panelists from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) provided an overview of the regional Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Permits and the updated Municipal Stormwater General Permit (MS4) permit. Attendees learned how the City of Hoboken uses innovative green infrastructure projects to manage flooding and CSOs. The panel discussed how a stormwater utility could fund water quality improvement projects, which would greatly help Lake Hopatcong, but why they can be politically challenging. Panelists and attendees discussed the importance of community outreach and engagement around stormwater issues and solutions. 

Climate Resilience: The Pathways to Funding Climate Resilient Projects breakout session included panelists from NJDEP who identified the resilience planning programs available for municipalities and provided an overview of the resilience funding opportunities through the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I bank). David Zimmer, Executive Director of the Ibank highlighted the immense influence the Ibank has had, making note of how the water bank has been a very successful collaboration with NJDEP. Yasmine Passar from Hoboken provided a local perspective on the planning and funding challenges municipalities face when trying to advance resilience projects. 

Communication: The session entitled, Communicating the Value of Water, brought together three panelists with different experiences in community, nonprofit, and water industry. During the session, the audience participation was robust, with at least ten attendees sharing reflections, questions, and observations when prompted. During the session, the panelists showed the Waterloop podcast “Dissecting Distrust of Tap Water” and collectively acknowledged and examined the challenge and imperative of restoring faith in our water with new contaminations and an all-time low in confidence in institutions. The panelist also exhibited video examples to show community appeal to participate in Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) and water industry appeal for customers to self-identify lead lines.

Water Workforce: During the Partnering to Advance Water Workforce Initiatives in New Jersey breakout session, the panelists presented programs they had collaborated on during the fall to build capacity for the water sector. Catherina Mirasol, from Hudson County Community College, and John Libitz, from Veolia North America, spoke about their partnership in the Water Workforce Utility Project held at Hudson County Community College this past fall. Catherina shared that before working on this project, she had not worked with any water workforce initiatives. Nicole Brown and Jennifer Harris discussed the Emerging Water Leaders Circle and the importance of creating spaces that foster the growth of emerging industry leaders. The panelists highlighted that raising visibility and awareness of the industry is crucial to building its capacity and achieving success. 

PFAS and Other Contaminants: The session titled Let’s Talk About PFAs and Other Contaminants brought together a panel of four experts who presented their work on an emerging area of concern for water and wastewater systems. The presentations shared by the panelists highlighted the lessons learned on both the drinking water and clean water sides in addressing PFAs. They discussed the challenges faced in scaling up treatment solutions and emphasized the role of partnership in problem-solving. In 2024, Jersey Water Works will continue to explore how to approach this conversation further. 

Roundtable Discussion with Elected Officials: The roundtable conversation during the general session was moderated by Rosana Pedra Nobre. The panelists were Senator Greenstein (LD-14), Mayor Helmin Caba (Perth Amboy), Tenisha Malcolm (Director of the Urban Mayors Policy Center, John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University), and Joe Jacangelo (Keynote speaker). They discussed the critical role of elected officials in developing and maintaining water infrastructure, and the challenges they face. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss better integration and collaboration between elected officials and water advocates.

Keynotes: The general session included a presentation by Joseph G. Jacangelo, Stantec and The Johns Hopkins University, and past president of AWWA on Water 2050: Charting a Course for a Safe and Sustainable Water Future. He offered a review of recommendations from the Water 2050 report around strategic priorities that include Sustainability & Resilience, Innovation and Circular Economy, Finance and Affordability, One Water Governance and Policy, and Equity, Access & Community Engagement. Dan Van Abs, from Rutgers University, urged the group to look at the co-benefits of nontraditional partners that go beyond the utility and invited the folks to join the committees to consider opportunities to continue guiding New Jersey’s water infrastructure solutions. 

Acknowledgments: The conference sessions and roundtable were coordinated by Paula Figueroa-Vega, Andrea Sapal, Zeke Weston, Patricia Dunkak, Jyoti Venketraman, Deandrah Cameron, Michael Atkins, Diane Schrauth, Lee Clark, and Sabrina Rodriguez. Members of the collaborative’s backbone organization, New Jersey Future, managed event activities. Special thanks to Michele Glassburg, Alyssa Zabinski, Sneha Patel, Sara Barreiros, Ron Dukes, and Alesha Vega, for their support behind the scenes. On the day of, Lindsey Sigmund, Heather Sorge, Cassie Bolinger, and Ben Dziobek, provided support and assistance.

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