Cities across the country are reckoning with infrastructural systems nearing the end of their lifespans. Perhaps the most palpable aspect of this crisis is the aging water lines crisscrossing municipal areas, that, in many circumstances rely on lead pipes that have poisoned successive generations of city residents. However, in a welcome turn of events, the State of New Jersey has just announced an ambitious 10-year plan to catalog and replace every lead service line across the state.
The campaign follows lead crises in the New Jersey cities of Newark and Trenton that saw lead levels rise several times higher than the federally mandated limit. In response, the state and city governments were impelled to distribute bottled water and water filters to hundreds of thousands of residents.
As reported by Gothamist, more than 600 community water systems will now be forced to inventory and map where their lead pipes are and make those records available to the public. The owner of the water system, be it private or public, will cover the cost of replacement. That is no simple feat as it is estimated that the state possesses approximately 350,000 lead service lines, the fifth-highest in the country.
The undertaking is expected to cost just short of $3 billion, and water companies will be permitted to raise rates to cover the cost of replacement. However, it is likely that much of the required funding will derive from the issuance of bonds by both municipal and county authorities. It is possible that further support will be provided through President Biden’s upcoming infrastructure bill, which has slowly received bipartisan support in recent days and may yet come to pass.
There is some optimism that the campaign could finish well before the decade-long projection. As noted by ABC7, Newark’s replacement of nearly 20,000 lead pipes is almost complete after three years of work, or seven years ahead of schedule. The city was also able to secure financing through the Essex County Improvement Authority as well as the Port Authority, both of whom have higher credit ratings and, in turn, lower interest rates.
New Jersey is the first state in the country to provide a definite timeline for lead pipe replacement and follows similar legislation passed in Michigan earlier this year. If all goes well, the program could prove to be an exportable model across state lines.