Legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-13) and Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) that would help protect the state’s drinking water, result in more than $100 million of water infrastructure upgrades, and create thousands of jobs was approved by the New Jersey Senate.
The “Water Infrastructure Protection Act,” S-2412, streamlines the process through which municipalities and municipal, county and regional utility authorities could transfer, sell or lease their water or wastewater assets to private entities.
“New Jersey’s ability to maintain our water infrastructure is critical to the health of our state’s residents, our economy and the environment,” said Kyrillos. “The challenges of maintaining and replacing aging water infrastructure can escalate quickly beyond the technical and financial means of government entities and taxpayers. Despite this, current law makes it nearly impossible to let those with sufficient resources and know-how to take over these systems and effectively address emergent conditions.”
In many areas of New Jersey, water and wastewater systems were installed decades ago, with much of the state’s infrastructure in service well beyond its designed life expectancy. This aging and sometimes obsolete infrastructure can lead to difficult and costly repairs as individual elements fail, leading to unexpected expenses for governments and taxpayers and patched together systems that are still prone to failure.
Under current law, the process to sell a public water or wastewater system to a private entity involves a number of steps, concluding with a public referendum at the next succeeding general election. This legislation streamlines the process by forgoing the referendum if certain emergent conditions are certified to exist, following a public hearing and approval by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The measure also allows for a petition process through which a number of legal voters protesting the transfer could require a public referendum to be held.
“We recognize that there are times when private entities might be most capable of operating, maintaining and upgrading drinking water and sanitary wastewater systems,” said Kyrillos. “This legislation strikes the right balance of allowing for quicker transfers when water systems are at risk, while maintaining the public’s ability to be part of the process in a direct and meaningful way.”