News Feature | January 15, 2014

Sewage Spill Bill May Hit Utilities With New Costs

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

Manhole

The New Jersey state legislature has approved a bill that calls for greater public notice when sewage spills into the environment. 

"Sewer authorities will be required to notify the public promptly about any raw sewage overflows into local rivers and bays under a bill [that passed] the state Senate," the Record reported

The legislation slaps additional rules on wastewater treatment companies. 

"Under the bill (S831), approved 34-4, operators of permitted sewage systems would have to report spills to the state Department of Environmental Protection within an hour of when they occur," the South Jersey Times reported

As the Record explained it also means that "within five days of an overflow, the utility would have to submit a report about it to the DEP. In addition, each combined sewer outfall pipe outlet must be clearly marked with signs."

The added financial burden on utilities is a concern. 

"This is all fine if the overflow happens on working hours, but what happens if there's an overflow in the middle of the night or on weekends when we have no manpower? It would require us to bring in people on overtime," said Alan O'Grady, head of the public works department in Ridgefield Park, in the Record

The state government would carry the burden of informing the public. 

"The department must, within 12 hours, notify the public by posting details to its website, as well as providing notice to the state health department, affected municipalities and parks departments, and anyone else who signs up for alerts," the report said. 

New Jersey does not have a perfect track record when it comes to the environment. 

"More than 23 billion gallons of raw sewage and other pollutants pours each year into New Jersey's bays and rivers – including the Hackensack, Passaic and Hudson – because aging sewer systems can't handle the extra flow of water during heavy rains. The raw sewage and toxic waste spills come from more than 200 outfall pipes, including some in Ridgefield Park, Hackensack and Paterson," the Record reported in a previous article. 

Supporters of the legislation described the state's sewage problems: "We have a huge combined sewer overflow problem in New Jersey," said Debbie Mans, head of NY/NJ Baykeeper, in the Record. "It's really important to notify the public when these overflows occur so they can make the right choice about whether to use waterways for recreation."

Image credit: “Manhole," © 2013 faul, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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