Seeking strategies to improve water management in New Jersey, members of Jersey Water Works led a 24-person delegation to the US Water Alliance’s One Water Summit, June 27 to 29 in New Orleans. Representing a wide range of water infrastructure professionals and advocates, the delegation explored ways to build public and political will for investments in improved water infrastructure and management.
Several common themes emerged from the summit. Sustainable funding remains an overarching concern and a key component of national success stories. Attendees honed in on two leading funding options for New Jersey: statewide authorization of stormwater fees, and learning how to craft mutually beneficial public-private partnerships. Delegates were also impressed by the effectiveness of leading utilities that employ innovative technologies and connect well with the public; they want to partner with New Jersey utilities to follow suit. And they highlighted ways to apply the One Water concept to achieve multiple benefits; for example, by encouraging integration of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure within a single city and by highlighting how Jersey City water users depend upon Highlands’ water sources. Finally, many delegates expressed interest in replicating water-industry workforce training programs that benefit residents.
The delegates recommended many next steps to apply national lessons in New Jersey. Some delegates pledged to help propose a realistic one-year “action agenda” for the next governor that will improve water infrastructure in urban, surburban, and rural areas. As one example of a potential action, members prioritized winning legislative authorization for stormwater fees. Members also agreed to find ways to improve communications and community engagement. They want to replicate New Orleans’ progress in making the business case for investment infrastructure by emphasizing that access to safe, affordable, well-managed water is a bipartisan objective that can improve New Jersey industries’ bottom line.
The summit’s location in New Orleans was significant, as the city has been shaped by its relationship with water. In a session titled “The New Orleans Story,” four speakers related how New Orleans dealt with Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that caused more than 1,000 deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, Greater New Orleans has made itself a model of resilience by investing in infrastructure, coastal restoration, and urban water management.
The New Jersey delegation visited water infrastructure around the city. Attendees toured New Orleans’ Pump Station Number 6, which pumps up to 32 billion gallons of stormwater into Lake Pontchartrain each day. They also visited green infrastructure demonstration projects and Bayou Bienvenue, an urban wetland, laboratory, and classroom. One green infrastructure highlight was a new solar-powered bench that doubles as a mobile device charging station and a mechanism for stormwater capture.
The US Water Alliance, which operates similarly to Jersey Water Works at the national scale, organized the summit around four themes: building will for One Water approaches, financing and delivering One Water projects, changing the policy and regulatory landscape, and collaborating across and beyond water. New Jersey Future’s Chris Sturm spoke at a session titled, “What are the key ingredients to crafting One Water coalitions that win?” Sturm joined Belinda Constant, mayor of Gretna, Louisiana; Sig Hutchinson, chair of the Wake County, N.C., Board of Commissioners; and Ginny Moore, representative of The Conservation Fund. Drawing on her experiences with Jersey Water Works, Sturm shared the power of Jersey Water Works’ Collective-Impact approach, which engages people to work towards a shared agenda.
The New Jersey delegation to the One Water Summit found it beneficial to learn about the latest innovations in water management from around the country. They also enjoyed getting to know each other better over beignets, gumbo and jazz! The delegation has returned to New Jersey with new knowledge and relationships that point toward fruitful collective action in the future.