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Policy Options: Promoting Affordability of Public Water and Sewer Service for Low-Income Households in New Jersey

This discussion paper presents policy options for improving affordability of water and wastewater service for lower income residents in New Jersey—for the benefit not only of those customers, but of all New Jerseyans who depend on their local utilities for clean, safe, and reliable water and sewer service. Jersey Water Works aims to use it to spark discussion among state and local policy makers, utility managers, water and sewer customers, community organizations, and other public sector, private sector, and non-profit stakeholders, and to use it as a basis for further analysis and development of priority recommendations. The paper is based on a review of existing literature from around the country; research on existing New Jersey laws and programs; and interviews with leaders representing or associated with a wide range of stakeholders, including publicly and privately owned utilities, state regulators, affordable housing developers and advocates, consumer advocates, environmental justice advocates, business, and labor.

Promoting Affordability of Public Water and Sewer Service for Low-Income Households in New Jersey: Policy Options

“A major deterrent to proper investment in water infrastructure is affordability . . . Municipalities with a larger share of low-income residents find it difficult to raise rates to fund water infrastructure upgrades due to the detrimental effect higher rates will have on those residents. The result is underinvestment, which is a losing proposition . . . However, while increasing rates can adversely affect low-income households, as several witnesses noted, these effects are not inevitable and can be avoided . . .” —New Jersey Legislature, Joint Legislative Task Force on Drinking Water Infrastructure, Final Report (Jan. 2018)

Rates could fund lead pipe replacement in critical states: Laws in states with the most lead service lines support the practice

In Rates could fund lead pipe replacement in critical states, Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School and Environmental Defense Fund reviewed state laws and policies in 13 states with the most lead service lines (LSLs), and found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total. In these states, publicly-owned utilities can act pursuant to existing state legislation by determining that the practice serves a public purpose—protecting public health. Investor-owned utilities can do the same, but typically need approval of the state’s utility commission. While we have not reviewed the remaining states, we anticipate that the state laws and policies are similar to the ones we evaluated.

Rates could fund lead pipe replacement in critical states: Laws in states with the most lead service lines support the practice

State Policymakers’ Toolkit

To spotlight the important role that state governments can play in advancing sustainable water management, US Water Alliance and the Council of State Governments developed this State Policymaker’s Toolkit as a resource for elected officials and staff in the executive and legislative branches of state government. For each of the Seven Big Ideas (below), they briefly summarize the key issues and then provide real world examples of how states are forging progress. The promising examples are not meant to be prescriptive, but rather serve as a starting place for the generation of potential solutions that are specific to individual state contexts. For research purposes, these examples include endnote citations back to the legislative or regulatory language that was passed and/or implemented.

Seven Big Ideas:

  1. Advance regional collaboration on water management
  2. Accelerate agriculture-utility partnerships to improve water quality
  3. Sustain adequate funding for water infrastructure
  4. Blend public and private expertise and investment to address water infrastructure needs
  5. Redefine affordability for the 21st century
  6. Reduce lead risks, and embrace the mission of protecting public health
  7. Accelerate technology adoption to build efficiency and improve water service

Fact Sheet for Press Kits: New Jersey Water Infrastructure

To support media coverage of New Jersey’s water infrastructure issues, this fact sheet for press kits offers background information on water infrastructure in the state. It is a product of the Jersey Water Works Education and Outreach Committee whose goal is to promote well-informed decision makers, community partners, residents and ratepayers and their active participation and influence in the planning and management of their water infrastructure.

Fact Sheet for Press Kits: New Jersey Water Infrastructure

Results from 2019 Value of Water Index: American Support for Investments in Water Infrastructure

Results from 2019 Value of Water Index: American Support for Investments in Water Infrastructure shows massive bipartisan support for investing in water infrastructure. One-pager with results here.

Over the past four years, the Value of Water Campaign has polled American voters to better understand their opinions about the state of our nation’s water infrastructure and what they view as priorities for action and potential solutions. The fourth annual national poll of over 1,000 American voters, was conducted by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz, and Associates (D) and New Bridge Strategy (R).

Key poll findings include:
  • Americans support rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure more than any other issue facing the current administration, including building a border wall, repealing or replacing Obamacare, providing permanent status for Dreamers, or increasing military defense spending. Over three-fourths of voters (79 percent) say rebuilding America’s infrastructure is extremely or very important.
  • More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) support investment in water infrastructure at the national, state, and local levels — even when told that investment carries a $1.2 trillion price tag. Also, two-thirds of voters support a proactive program of water infrastructure upgrades, rather than fixing problems as they arise (67 percent).
  • Four in five (80 percent) American voters say what they pay for water service is affordable, and more than three in five voters would be willing to pay a modest increase in local water rates to fund improved service.
  • No other issue has nearly as much broad and bipartisan support. Support for investing in water infrastructure cuts across age, gender, party, geography, and ideology. More than three in four Democrats and Republicans agree rebuilding America’s infrastructure should be a top priority for the President and Congress this year.
  • Water quality concerns emphasizes need for investment and innovation. Seventy-four percent of Americans — living in both urban and rural areas — are concerned about contaminants affecting their water quality. More than five in eight Americans support local water agencies increasing the use of potable recycled water in their community.




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