Twenty-five New Jersey municipalities and utilities are developing plans to upgrade their century-old combined sewer systems. These upgrades will take decades to build and should serve communities for another hundred years. Thus far, the development of these plans has not required climate change to be taken into consideration.

Here are five reasons sewer upgrades should be climate-ready.

1) New Jersey’s sewers have already been impacted by climate change.

2) New Jersey is at the center of a national trend toward increased temperatures and rainfall.

3) Combined sewer overflows could be contributing to climate change.

4) The same communities that are on the front-lines of climate change impacts are also affected by combined sewer overflows and flooding.

  • “Rising sea level and more frequent and erratic precipitation will exacerbate challenges like flooding and CSOs that already disproportionately affect vulnerable communities.” —US Water Alliance, “An Equitable Water Future: Camden”

5) The process of treating wastewater is energy-intensive and contributes to climate change.

  • “The process of treating wastewater emits relatively large amounts of the heat-trapping gas methane (CH4) into the atmosphere. Among other processes that emit methane, wastewater treatment is the fifth largest anthropogenic source of the gas.” — U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

Nearly every aspect of upgrading our sewers relates to climate change. More precipitation not only increases the amount of sewer overflows, but it could be eroding wetlands that capture carbon. Wastewater treatment plants, which we will spend billions to upgrade, are also greenhouse gas emitters. The people most impacted by sea level rise are also impacted combined sewer overflows. Upgrades to our sewer systems need to take climate change into consideration, in order to develop solutions that fit our changed environment and minimize wastewater’s contribution to climate change.

Over the next few months, wastewater utilities and municipalities with combined sewer systems will select alternatives to combined sewer overflows. These solutions should be climate-ready and carbon neutral.

Ask utilities and municipalities to take climate change into consideration in sewer infrastructure upgrades.

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