On Dec. 2, 2016, 300 stakeholders from diverse sectors assembled around the shared goal of upgrading New Jersey’s antiquated water infrastructure at the second annual Jersey Water Works Conference held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka welcomed the audience and challenged participants to help his rapidly growing city upgrade its aging infrastructure. Peggy Gallos, the executive director of the Association of Environmental Authorities of New Jersey, moderated a discussion between the region’s leading water regulators — Dan Kennedy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Javier Laureano of US EPA Region 2 — who described the critical importance of asset management and funding, and discussed action the state has taken to remediate lead in water. Javier Laureano relayed his agency’s interest in decreasing the financial burden on communities of investing in water system upgrades and emphasized the adoption of green infrastructure and community engagement as best practices.
Maggie Moran of the public-affairs firm Kivvit moderated a wide-ranging discussion among members of the Smart Infrastructure; Strong Communities panel that wrestled with, and reconciled, competing demands: ensuring affordability for all ratepayers while upgrading failing systems and structuring public-private partnerships in ways that deliver community benefits and foster risk-taking and technological innovation.
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, one of the honorary co-chairs of Jersey Water Works, introduced the keynote speaker, Mayor Stephanie Miner, a national leader in addressing water infrastructure. Mayor Miner’s presentation described her struggle to address the problem of failing water infrastructure systems in the City of Syracuse. By working across all departments and employing new data-gathering techniques and analysis, her staff has been able to focus on the highest- priority water infrastructure upgrades. She engaged the citizens of Syracuse in a public campaign about the priorities of water across the spectrum. People became more receptive when the Flint, Michigan, crisis became national news.
Jane Kenny of Whitman Strategy Group and Mark Mauriello of Edgewood Properties, the co-chairs of the Jersey Water Works Steering Committee, presented an overview of how far Jersey Water Works has come over the past year and how by aligning member activities within Jersey Water Works we are able to accomplish more together, than we could apart.
Designed to provide feedback to Jersey Water Works members and committees about where its strategies are succeeding and where they need refinement, the co-chairs additionally launched the Jersey Water Works Measurement System. Stay tuned in 2017 as next the collaborative will set up tracking systems, modify the system as needed, establish a baseline and share data.
To highlight the work committees have achieved over the past year, the chairs of the five committees presented their year-end accomplishments. Committee members were recognized for the time and effort they’ve dedicated to advancing our efforts. Looking forward to the work to come, the high point of the presentation came when representatives from member organizations took the stage to share more than 30 commitments to action in 2017.
The conference concluded with a panel discussion on the challenges the City of Newark faces in trying to upgrade aging water infrastructure, especially to address stormwater-related flooding, lead in drinking water, sewage discharge, and expensive emergency repairs. Joe Della Fave, the executive director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, reinforced the reality that vulnerable populations are often the ones most at risk because of the water infrastructure crisis.
The issues of addressing New Jersey’s water infrastructure are interwoven with our future economic growth, public health and safety, flood and climate resilience, safer neighborhoods and local jobs. Become a supporting member of Jersey Water Works to add your voice, perspective and expertise!