Hurricane Sandy damaged more than 100 facilities supplying drinking water to residents and sewage treatment plants, leaving the state with an unexpected $2.6 billion bill to repair, rebuild, and make the systems more resilient, according to state officials.
How the state goes about meeting that challenge remains to be seen, although the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is hoping to leverage federal funds approved by Congress in the wake of Sandy to help address those problems.
Making those systems more resilient to future storms is among the agency’s top priorities, one the department is expected to wrestle with over the next few months, but with few clear answers emerging just yet.
“Our challenges are staggering,’’ conceded state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin at an annual meeting of the New Jersey Clean Water Council yesterday in the agency’s headquarters in Trenton. The hearing focused on adapting the state’s water infrastructure to the “new normal,’’ a phrase given currency in the wake of a series of extreme storms.
The costs incurred by the superstorm occurred during a period of massive underinvestment in the state’s infrastructure to provide clean drinking water and to reduce pollution flowing into New Jersey waterways from wastewater treatment plants -- a problem even before Sandy.
New Jersey needs to spend $45 billion over the next two decades to repair its drinking water infrastructure and sewage treatment plants, according to Michele Siekerka, an assistant commissioner for the DEP in water resource management. That means investing $8 billion in its drinking water infrastructure and another $37 billion in wastewater treatment.
By Martin’s account, Sandy underscored the vulnerabilities of New Jersey’s infrastructure. The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, the fifth-largest wastewater treatment plant in the nation, was completely flooded by the superstorm. As a result, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed into state waterways, Martin noted.
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