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.
- Superstorm Sandy showed the vulnerability of New Jersey’s communities with combined sewer systems to the impacts of climate change. Explore where 11 billion gallons of sewage overflows happened during Hurricane Sandy, what caused them, and how much each overflow was treated.
2) New Jersey is at the center of a national trend toward increased temperatures and rainfall.
- “New Jersey’s average temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Celsius since 1895 — double the average for the lower 48 states.” — The Washington Post, “2°C: Beyond the limit Extreme climate change has arrived in America”
- “The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the United States; between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events)” — The National Climate Assessment
3) Combined sewer overflows could be contributing to climate change.
- “When human pollutants are carried by excess stormwater into surrounding waterways, wetlands lose their ability to hold carbon. This allows more greenhouse gases to enter the atmosphere.” — CityLimits, “New York’s 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.