Bill to Address Statewide Lead Concerns; Requires a Service Line Inventory and Replacement of All Lead Service Lines Clears Assembly Committee
Sponsored by Assembly Democrats Schaer, McKnight, Spearman, & Karabinchak
(TRENTON) – Moving to address New Jersey’s aging water system infrastructure and the ongoing concerns of lead contamination in many cities across the state, Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Angela McKnight, William Spearman, and Robert Karabinchak sponsor legislation that would require public water systems to inventory and replace lead service lines within 20 years and provide for recoupment of costs by investor-owned public water systems. The bill was passed by the Assembly Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources on Monday.
In 2019, at least 35 water systems in New Jersey were found to have high levels of lead in their tap water. The state’s aging water system quickly became the epicenter of national attention and keeping residents safe in Newark and other cities emphasized the need for a rigorous effort to address our water infrastructure and environmental concerns.
“Before the COVID- 19 pandemic began, New Jersey was already facing an ongoing public health crisis,” said Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Every year, more than 4,800 new cases of childhood lead poisoning are reported in our State, causing potentially irreparable damage to our shared future. Ending the lead crisis in New Jersey is not insurmountable, it is achievable if we believe it is worth doing. This legislation provides a path forward to guaranteeing every resident the right to safe drinking water.”
The bill (A-5343) would require each public water system (PWS) in the State to develop a service line inventory and a replacement plan for lead service lines that provides for the replacement of all lead service lines within 20 years, and would authorize an investor-owned PWS to recoup the costs of lead service line replacements.
“Critical upgrades to New Jersey’s water infrastructure are needed to modernize a decaying water system and ensure safe drinking water for New Jersey residents,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Major cities and the most historic cities, such as Jersey City and Newark, continue to battle a lead crisis on top of the current public health crisis in which we find ourselves. Lead contamination and aging water infrastructure will amount to a public health crisis, an environmental emergency, and have an impact on our roadways for future generations if we don’t take action and develop a plan now.”
Within 12 months of enactment, each PWS would be required to submit, for review and approval by the DEP, an initial plan for replacing all lead service lines within its service area. The plan would be required to provide for the annual replacement of at least seven percent of all lead service lines known to the PWS on the date it submits its initial plan to the DEP, and the replacement of all lead service lines within the PWS’s service area within 20 years. Each PWS would be required to update its replacement plan annually and keep consistent with the PWS’s updated service line inventory.
“Water systems cannot go overlooked and we must continue to make drinking water as safe as possible,” said Spearman (D- Camden, Gloucester). “Updated infrastructure systems and a well thought out plan to replace any old service lines is very important and will help keep harmful lead out of our water.”
The measure would also authorize investor-owned PWSs to recoup the costs of lead service line replacements by including a proposal for recoupment to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in a general rate case proceeding. BPU would be required to consider the costs to customers before approving the proposal.
“Replacing the service lines is crucial, but we must also make sure that public water systems have the time necessary to make all the required changes,” said Karabinchak (D- Middlesex). “By giving a 20-year time frame, we can ensure that nothing is rushed and the proper changes are made at a high quality”.