News Feature | April 5, 2016

Under Pressure, NJ Focuses On Keeping Sewage Out Of Rivers

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Facing pressure from the federal government and environmental groups, New Jersey regulators appear to be cracking down on the disposal of raw sewage into rivers and streams.

About 23 billion gallons of raw sewage flow into New Jersey rivers each year, according to NY/NJ Baykeeper. And twenty-one cities and towns in New Jersey still operate combined sewer systems, meaning stormwater and sewage flow down a single pipe, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been pushing states to minimize sewer overflows since 1994, but New Jersey has been slow to tackle the problem, federal statistics show,” the Journal reported.

But there are indications that the state is putting more effort into this arena.

“This past summer the state Department of Environmental Protection began issuing permits that require treatment plants to reduce overflows. One of the first visible results from the department’s new regulations [were] public signs, which [had to be] posted by Jan. 1 near discharge locations so people know the site is vulnerable to contamination,” the Journal reported.

And when 18 sewage providers across the state asked authorities to ease regulations against sewage dumping, Department of Environmental Protection officials had a clear answer this year: no. The department tightened these rules recently in the aftermath of a lawsuit from environmental advocates, according to The Record.

“The state requirements, which went into effect July 1, are laid out in the permits towns and sewage authorities must have to operate combined sewer systems that handle both sewage and stormwater. Normally these old systems direct sewage to the local treatment plant. But the pipes are also attached to roadway storm drains, and when heavy rain overwhelms the system, raw sewage flows untreated into rivers and bays, as does pollution from roads — heavy metals, benzene, oil and grease — as well as the paint and chemicals that people dump down storm drains,” the report said.

Municipalities argue that they have not had enough time to adjust to the rules, and that tougher regulations mean big costs for communities that are already cash-strapped.

For instance, Ridgefield Park “sought to suspend the requirements because they give the village only three years to develop a plan to fix the problem, said Alan O’Grady, the village’s public works superintendent. In addition, the infrastructure projects to end the dumping — building holding tanks to collect stormwater temporarily, or adding new pipes to separate the sewage and stormwater systems — would cost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, money the village doesn’t have,” The Record reported.

“Paterson, meanwhile, has estimated fixing its combined-sewer overflow problem could cost $1 billion,” the report continued.

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Sewers And Sewer Line Maintenance Solutions Center.