On March 12, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued final permits to the 25 cities and utilities that operate combined-sewer systems (CSSs), a first step to updating decrepit infrastructure, minimizing flooding and keeping raw sewage from reaching public waterways. The new permits require affected towns and sewer treatment authorities to create and adopt plans to address the problems triggered by what are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). These overflows occur when a system that handles both stormwater and sewage is overwhelmed by rain or snowmelt, causing untreated sewage to be discharged into local waterways, and sometimes into streets and basements.
“New Jersey’s cities and authorities now have a unique opportunity to turn minimum regulatory compliance into maximum community benefit,” said Peter Kasabach, New Jersey Future’s executive director. “Cities with CSOs suffer from localized flooding, sewage backing up into basements and streets, and polluted waterways. The plans required by the permits can propose visionary, comprehensive solutions, with multiple community benefits for our cities’ environment, its economic future, and the health and quality of life of its residents.”
Fixing New Jersey’s combined sewer systems is estimated to cost between $2 billion and $9.3 billion. For the 25 permittees, this will be unaffordable unless the investments made in water infrastructure also work to support revitalization. “Ratepayers, residents and businesses will be supportive if they can see tangible improvements — better waterfront recreation, new parks, and less flooding. We are urging permittees to take a strategic approach and engage with the public early and often,” said New Jersey Future Senior Director of State Policy Chris Sturm.
A network of government officials, water and sewer providers and nonprofit organizations, including DEP and New Jersey Future, have been working to educate decision-makers in these communities on best practices from around the country, including techniques like water conservation and “green” infrastructure that reduce the amount of stormwater and sewage entering the combined system, as well as smart approaches to managing traditional “gray” infrastructure solutions like new pipes and underground stormwater storage chambers.
For background information, data and statistics on check out New Jersey Future’s water infrastructure resource page and our New Jersey Combined Sewer Systems Fact Sheet and New Jersey Combined Sewer Systems By the Numbers profile of these systems and the communities they serve.