What the NJDEP is Saying About the Plans to Stop Sewage Overflows

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has been working around the clock to review the combined sewer overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) and issue response letters to the permit holders with comments, questions, and requests for clarification. On May 7, 2021 the first response letters were sent to a few of the permit holders and were posted on the NJDEP Division of Water Quality CSO website.  A few more were posted in mid-May, and we expect the remaining letters to be posted by the end of June. These letters are technical response letters that are specific to each plan, but there are some responses that apply to multiple (and possibly all) permit holders.

Here are some of the overarching themes that appear in multiple letters and relate to the issues that the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign raised in its comments on the CSO LTCPs.

The NJDEP states in all the letters we’ve reviewed that, “Public participation will continue in the next NJPDES [New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] permit and could include three primary goals: inform, educate and engage.” Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers has been advocating for continued public participation throughout the implementation of the plans, as well as stronger requirements in the next CSO permit.

In multiple letters, the NJDEP asks the permit holders to “address how the selected CSO control alternatives address climate change and sea level rise.” This is an important question from the NJDEP, and we look forward to the forthcoming answers. In our comments, we recommend that permit holders update their rainfall model with the latest data every five years. This will ensure that permit holders are using the most recent data in their models and designs.

And in a few of the letters the Department noted that “the financial capability and economic conditions are critical components of the LTCP review.” In the same paragraph, the NJDEP explains that it is simultaneously working on the rulemaking for the Environmental Justice Law, and it acknowledges that there is a relationship between the environmental justice rulemaking,combined sewer overflow LTCPs and permits, and the financial capabilities assessment. Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers strongly advocates for equitable financing of the plans so that the costs do not fall primarily on residents of environmental justice communities who have endured decades of sewage overflows and exposure to other industrial pollutants.

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign is working with the Jersey Water Works combined sewer overflow committee to review all the response letters. We will release further analysis of the letters in the coming months. Once the municipal and utility permit holder has received the letter, they have 60 days to respond. This begins a negotiation process, which will result in the NJDEP making a final determination to approve or reject the plan. If approved, a new five-year CSO permit will be issued.

 

Save the Date for the 2021 Jersey Water Works Annual Membership Meeting

This year’s Jersey Water Works membership meeting will be held virtually on July 28, 2021. Jersey Water Works (JWW) is a collaborative effort by a diversity of organizations and individuals, who embrace the common purpose of transforming New Jersey’s inadequate water infrastructure. Through their annual work plans, JWW committees plan and implement projects to advance the goals of the collaborative. Learn more about the activities of the JWW Combined Sewer Overflow and other committees here. JWW recently launched a Stormwater Utilities Ad Hoc Subcommittee that will be composed of members from all committees. Contact Kim Irby at kirby@njfuture.org to join a committee or for more information. JWW wants to know what’s important to you as it prepares the agenda for its membership meeting. What topics are you most interested in discussing or learning about at the membership meeting? Let the team know.

Fair Funding Sign-on Letter to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission Board of Commissioners

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign submitted a letter to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) Board of Commissioners on Monday, May 10, 2021. The 37 signatories asked that the costs of the regional upgrades be distributed among 48 municipalities in the PVSC region.

The PVSC is one of the largest sewer treatment plants in the country and serves 48 municipalities, eight of which have combined sewer systems. To meet requirements to reduce sewage overflows, PVSC and the eight communities with combined sewer systems submitted a regional combined sewer overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). The plan, which is currently under review by the NJDEP, proposes upgrades to the municipal sewer systems, as well as regional upgrades that will increase the capacity of the treatment plant. PVSC and the eight CSO municipal permit holders are engaged in ongoing negotiations regarding how the costs of a regional plan will be shared.

We are asking the board to:

  • Ensure that the cost for these upgrades is shared equitably between the PVSC and all 48 towns in the service area, including the eight CSO municipal permit holders (Newark, Jersey City, Bayonne, Harrison, East Newark, Kearny, Gutenberg, and Paterson).
  • Recognize the full hydrological benefit that the regional CSOLong Term Control Plan will create.
  • Consider the environmental justice impacts of these plans in light of the benefits of reducing combined sewer overflows for the region, the necessary associated construction harms that the plans will require, and whom will ultimately be impacted by the cost.
  • Reduce the cost to the City of Newark based on the burden from pollutants, odors, and traffic associated with the sewer treatment plant located within the city limits. The cumulative impacts of other industries located within the city’s limits, in addition to the construction of the interceptor, will contribute additional pollution and result in years of disruption in the daily lives of Newark community members.

Read the full letter here.

Use This Tool to Pay for Sewer Upgrades

Photo by: Monkey Business Images

Stormwater fees have been implemented across the country to fund upgrades to combined sewer systems. A stormwater fee is a tool recently made available to all New Jersey communities to help mitigate flooding and pollution. Communities with combined sewer systems may utilize this tool to ensure that every property contributing to sewage overflows pays for wastewater infrastructure upgrades. Now that the state has authorized New Jersey communities to implement stormwater utilities,  a multitude of resources are available to assist municipalities with implementation.

Two resources to take a look at:

  1. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Stormwater Utility Guidance website provides an overview of the process of establishing a stormwater utility. The site goes through the steps for establishing a stormwater utility fee, requirements for fees, credits and exemptions, how to use the fees, and developing an asset management program. The resource page includes a glossary of terms,  frequently asked questions, and links to stormwater utilities established outside of New Jersey.
  2. New Jersey Future’s New Jersey Stormwater Utility Resource Center explains the importance of stormwater management. The site dispels common myths and includes resources such as mapping tools and best practices for establishing a stormwater utility. The resource page links to many resources from inside and outside of New Jersey, including case studies and consulting assistance.

Now that we have the resources needed to establish stormwater utilities, New Jersey municipalities with flooding and pollution issues should take advantage of this tool to ensure that wastewater infrastructure is financed equitably.

What’s Next for the CSO Permits?

Multi-billion dollar plans to stop sewage overflows have been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and communities and stakeholders have reviewed the plans and have sent in comments to the NJDEP. Now what?

Step one: Review by NJDEP Division of Water Quality

Currently, the NJDEP Division of Water Quality is reviewing the combined sewer overflow Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) and the public input that were submitted. The NJDEP Division of Water Quality is also thinking about what happens next and is coordinating an additional stakeholder meeting to solicit input on a future public participation process.

Step two: Finalize the CSO Long Term Control Plans

Once the NJDEP Division of Water Quality has finished its review, it will issue technical comment letters back to the municipal and utility combined sewer overflow permit holders. These letters will be posted on the NJDEP website. The technical comment letters will require that the permit holders update their LTCPs and submit them back to the NJDEP. After both technical issues and implementation schedules are adequately addressed, the NJDEP Division of Water Quality will make a decision on the LTCP.

Step three: Issue the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) CSO permits

The Division of Water Quality will prepare a draft five-year New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) combined sewer overflow permit, based on the approved Long Term Control Plan. Releasing the draft permit will trigger a public comment period which will allow for public input. The Division of Water Quality will respond to all public comments as part of a final NJPDES permit action. After this public comment period, the NJDEP will finalize the permits and the first five years of implementing the Long Term Control Plans will begin.

Communities Make Recommendations for Multi-Billion Dollar Plans to Stop Sewage Overflows

Community groups submit recommendations to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the combined sewer overflow Long Term Control Plans.

TRENTON, 2021 – The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign, a coalition of community organizations from towns with combined sewer systems, is advocating for the Long Term Control Plans developed by municipal and utility permit holders to include equitable solutions to combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Twenty-four municipal and utility permit holders submitted combined sewer overflow Long Term Control Plans to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on October 1, 2020, kicking off a four-month comment period during which many community groups, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders weighed in on the plans, including the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign and its partners.

“These plans represent billions of public infrastructure dollars,” said Nicole Miller, principal, MnM Consulting and co-chair, NewarkDIG. “Our residents and business owners deserve the maximum benefit from each dollar spent. We hope NJDEP will take our concerns into consideration when preparing responses to the permit holders.”

“We are hopeful that the NJDEP’s commitment to environmental justice will be reflected in their review of these plans and that the final Long Term Control Plans will promote equity in affordability and in the implementation of solutions to sewage overflows,” said Mo Kinberg, New Jersey Future community outreach manager.

“The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that our nation’s waters no matter where you live, color of your skin, or economic situation are free of sewage and toxins with the ultimate goal of zero pollution discharge over time,” stated Amy Goldsmith, NJ state director, Clean Water Action. “Approving, funding, and enforcing the best Long Term Control Plans possible is key to ensuring water justice for all.”

The plans detail large wastewater infrastructure projects that will impact communities for decades and will be paid for primarily by taxpayers. Comments by the coalition focus on water quality, environmental justice, green infrastructure, public participation and climate change. “We are elated to see these plans move forward after over five years of community input and discussion,” stated Drew Curtis, Ironbound Community Corporation. “We want to see these plans address many of the issues facing environmental justice communities like Newark, such as abating stormwater flooding and increased green infrastructure. And, we want to see the plans paid for in an equitable manner. Newark, as the host community for PVSC, already bears the brunt of the negative impacts from the plant; other, more affluent communities within the PVSC service area should pick up more of the financial costs of these plans.”

“There has been an enormous effort by the CSO permit holders and NJDEP over the last five years to get us to this critical point of addressing CSOs through the adoption of the Long Term Control Plans,” stated Rosana Da Silva, New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program and technical advisory board member to the campaign. “These plans specifically focus on the reduction of CSOs. Implementation will improve water quality in the Estuary. But this process is also an opportunity for stakeholders, including ratepayers and local government officials, to envision the future of their communities and how they can best benefit from cleaner waterways.”

The coalition is asking the NJDEP and permit holders for innovative solutions that put the health and wellbeing of the residents of these communities first. “It is time to address the impacts of CSOs with a sense of urgency,” stated Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper. “Our urban communities have suffered the public health and environmental insult of raw sewage flowing freely into their streets and waterways after it rains for far too long. This will require the leadership and cooperation on the local, state and federal level that has yet to emerge.”

What more local advocates are saying:

“As a resident of the South Ward of Newark and an environmental justice organizer, it is extremely important that residents have meaningful participation in the Long Term Control Plans and their voices are heard in their communities’ plan,” stated Kim Gaddy, director, South Ward Environmental Alliance.

“We see what happens during a ‘normal’ rainfall event in Camden: raw sewage floods the streets and residential homes. Residents should be the first priority. We must develop an equitable public outreach and engagement plan to ensure ALL residents have a voice and are heard.“—Shaniqua Biles, Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Advisory Board member and Camden resident.

“Bayonne’s Long Term Control Plan is inherently inequitable in its financing, lacking in public input and nearly devoid of green infrastructure. Bayonne inexplicably failed to consider more equitable means of funding for this project, resulting in an unconscionable economic plan that will exacerbate income inequality and reward polluters.”—Jill Pustorino, Morris Park Neighborhood Association

“I find it very disturbing to have to wait until 2040 to address some of the worst flooding in Paterson. The flooding that is coming into our homes and cars has raw sewage in it, which creates health issues.”—Martha Arencibia, Paterson Green Team Chair

“There is an urgent opportunity for Jersey City to reduce costs of its Long Term Control Plan by investing in green infrastructure,” stated Debra Italiano, founder, Sustainable Jersey City.  “Grey infrastructure costs could be brought down by prioritizing green infrastructure first. The City of Jersey City indicated it would consider participation in a Regional Plan if ‘adaptive remedies’ were available in the agreement, like a green infrastructure first strategy—municipal alignment around this focus is needed.”

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Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers is an action-oriented campaign that empowers community organizations to engage residents and small business owners to shape their communities’ solutions to reduce localized flooding and the raw sewage dumped into rivers and streams due to combined sewer overflows (CSOs). These solutions were submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on October 1, 2020, and will be adopted in the next CSO permit.

For more information on the campaign and our partners visit SewageFreeNJ.org

Community Comments Focus on Climate, Costs, Equity, and Justice

Organizations, individuals, coalitions and collaboratives, worked tirelessly to submit comments on the combined sewer overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) before the January 31 deadline. The people who live, work, and own businesses in these communities experience the impacts of these antiquated sewer systems and will pay for the upgrades. And they have a lot to say about these plans.

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign submitted general comments, endorsed by 21 organizations from across New Jersey, focused on the following issues:

  • Improving water quality and access.
  • Making environmental justice part of all aspects of these plans.
  • Ensuring equitable financing of these plans.
  • Implementing a green infrastructure first approach.
  • Informing, engaging, and empowering communities.
  • Using the most recent climate change data in the selection, implementation, and evaluation of these plans.

Other collaboratives such as the Jersey Water Works CSO committee, and municipal action teams like Perth Amboy SWIM (Stormwater Infrastructure Management), JC START (Jersey City Stormwater Treatment and Resiliency Team), and NewakDIG (Doing Infrastructure Green) also submitted comments. Community-based organizations in Jersey City came together to submit joint comments, and many individual organizations like New Jersey Future, New Jersey Clean Water Action, NJ/NY Baykeeper, the Passaic River Coalition, Morris Park Neighborhood Association, South Ward Environmental Alliance, the Urban Systems Lab, and the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions submitted comments.

Read comments submitted by the following organizations:

The NJDEP is now considering the public comments that were submitted as they complete their review of the CSO Long Term Control Plans. The NJDEP may ask CSO permit holders to make changes to their plans before they are approved. Once the plans are approved, the NJDEP will issue another round of five-year CSO permits based on the final LTCPs. The need for public input does not end here. There will be an official public input period for the next round of CSO permits and the people who live, work, and own businesses in these communities must have a voice in the implementation of these plans.

 

CSO LTCP Comments Workshop Report Back

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign’s third workshop on the CSO Long Term Control Plans focused on assisting community members develop comments on their towns’ LTCPs. The workshop started off with a few tips for writing comments:

  • Share your personal experiences and stories.
  • You are not expected to be a technical expert.
  • Your experience as a community member is valuable and needed input.
  • Share how these plans could impact your community/neighborhood/city
  • Ask questions.
  • You do not need to comment on every aspect of the report.

Six speakers addressed water quality, environmental justice, green infrastructure, financing, climate change, and public participation. Here are key takeaways from the presentations:

The Program Director of the NY – NJ Harbor Estuary Program, Rob Pirani presented water quality goals of the CSO permit and led a discussion on the water quality issues to consider in the LTCPs. Pirani pointed out that, while the CSO permits may not solve the overall water quality issues, decisions related to the CSO permits will affect how people access outdoor recreational spaces and the use of water bodies.

Environmental justice considerations were presented by New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance Executive Director Melissa Miles. She emphasized that an environmental justice lens should be used to evaluate all of the aspects of the plans, from the siting of green infrastructure to rate structures. Cumulative impacts should be considered as we implement solutions to CSOs. Miles suggested that we need to develop educated and cooperative municipalities on environmental justice issues.

One of the solutions to CSOs that has multiple benefits for communities is green infrastructure (GI). Rutgers Water Resource Program Director Chris Obropta shared the many types of GI that could be implemented through these plans. He stressed that GI needs to be implemented immediately rather than pushed to later phases of the plans. Hesitation to implement GI typically comes from uncertainty about the cost. Obropta explained that “cost is variable” but is generally cheaper than gray infrastructure and requires minimal maintenance. He emphasized the need to get the community involved and think creatively about where GI can be used. Shaping the CSO permits to optimize the use of GI will have health benefits, transform communities, and improve the quality of life.

Financing looked at through an environmental justice lens reveals that right now the plans may be compliant but are not equitable, and overlooking this will perpetuate inequities. Director of Urban Water Infrastructure and senior attorney in NRDC’s Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program, Larry Levine, explained how using financing alternatives can actually be used as a tool to help solve inequalities. He walked through various financing options and considerations, including partnerships, various rate structures, stormwater utility fees, rules and regulations, as well as loans and grants. He said that if you rely on rate increases to fund the plans but don’t look to solve the affordability issues, you’re going to perpetuate inequalities and use a longer compliance schedule as an excuse to fall back on.

Principal and founder of Meliora Designs, Michele Adams, explained the relation of climate change to rainfall considerations in the CSO plans. Resilience is the ability to recover or adapt easily to stress and disturbance. Climate change induced stressors include more frequent hurricanes, increased flooding, higher temperatures, and these stressors will most directly impact infrastructure. The CSO plans should consider infrastructure solutions and locations in relation to sea level rise, increased rainfall volume, and effects of rising temperatures on humans. Green infrastructure is key for restoring natural processes to manage water and mitigate urban heat islands. Communities benefit from investments in multiple projects that address multiple issues.

Meishka Mitchell, vice president at Cooper’s Ferry Partnership spoke about the importance of public participation in the CSO planning process. Current guidelines include having a two-way dialogue with the public and the creation and engagement of a supplemental CSO team. However, beyond these minimum requirements there is a spectrum of levels of public participation. Participation levels ranging from lowest to highest include: inform, consult, innovate, collaborate, and empower. The goal is to engage cities at the collaborate and empower levels and push them to be forward-thinking. Higher level participation can include surveys and activities to understand public preferences, as well as participatory and active decision-making power. Currently, most LTCPs are far from the highest public participation levels.

The overall message from speakers to participants was of the importance of reviewing the CSO plans with an awareness of inequity, and opportunities to address multiple issues. It is easy to fulfill the minimum requirements and be in compliance without advancing equity. Attendees were encouraged to look through an environmental justice lens, at the makeup of the town, and its vulnerabilities, through every section of the plans. Plan comments should evaluate how these plans can take into account vulnerable populations, whether they perpetuate inequality, and where they could include creative solutions to multiple issues. Consider how you would like to spend your money and how to take advantage of opportunities to ensure best results. The LTCPs will impact the quality of life within communities over the next 30 years. These plans are a serious milestone and how they are shaped will impact future generations.

Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Comments on the CSO Long Term Control Plans

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign reviewed the combined sewer overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plans with a focus on water quality, environmental justice, green infrastructure, financing, climate change, and public participation. We also developed a series of fact sheets on 10 of the CSO Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) to summarize the content of the reports based on these categories and to facilitate community groups’ review and development of comments on the plans.

Overall, we found that the LTCPs are designed to meet existing water quality standards but do not consider future water quality standards. The reports do not address the level of water quality the local community wants to attain, nor do they address improving access to our waterfronts.

Environmental justice consideration varies from plan to plan. For example, environmental justice considerations informed the approach that was taken by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and led it to focus on the near-term community benefits.  However, the majority of the plans do not mention environmental justice issues nor do they anticipate future environmental issues as a result of the selected controls.

Similarly, the approach to green infrastructure ranged from pilot projects to implementing green infrastructure projects on 10% of hardened surfaces. We paid close attention to the implementation schedules to ensure that communities would benefit from green infrastructure in the near future and found that some of the plans either delayed implementation or spread out implementation throughout the entire schedule, which in some cases was 40 years. All of the CSO permit holders used an updated design storm year of 2004 to account for increased precipitation. Some of the reports go further to include sea-level rise data, and some indicate that climate change is an external change that could require changes to the plans.

The financing of the plans focus on the ability of the municipality and taxpayers to pay for them. Most permit holders found that the rate increases over 20 years would exceed the 2% of median household income that the Environmental Protection Agency deems as burdensome.  Permit holders propose extending the implementation plan for as long as 40 years to spread out the costs. This assessment is flawed because it does not consider innovative financing such as stormwater utilities, which  would generate revenue for the projects and distribute the costs more equitably.

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign has focused on public participation throughout the five years of the CSO permit, advocating for a public conversation and for the plans to reflect the communities’ values. We found that while all of the permit holders could be in compliance with the public participation requirements of the CSO permit, most did not demonstrate the two-way dialog that is recommended in the NJDEP public participation guidance documents. Although public participation was not robust in all of the municipalities, a foundation for community involvement in the development of these plans was established and should be built upon as we move forward with the next CSO permit.

We have an opportunity to learn from the last CSO permit, and we now have a commitment from the Governor to address climate change and environmental justice issues. In comments submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, we recommend including requirements for the permit holders to use the latest data on climate change and to specifically engage environmental justice communities in the implementation of these plans. The plans should prioritize these overburdened districts for projects that will reduce flooding and the impacts of CSOs. We also recommend including stronger requirements for public participation in the next CSO permit. Read the full Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers comments on the CSO Long Term Control Plans here.

 

Fact Sheets on the CSO Plans

Communities in New Jersey with combined sewer systems have submitted their plans to reduce combined sewer overflows into local waterways. The implementation of these plans could cost between $2.5 billion and $3.8 billion, and the proposed timeframes for implementation span 20 to 40 years. Facts like these can be found in the Long Term Control Plans but you need to know where to find them.

The plans include all of the reports that were submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) over the last five years as well as the most recent Selection and Implementation of Alternatives Report. To assist community members and those who are interested in the contents of these plans, the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign has developed a series of fact sheets that highlight the most pertinent information for communities to know, such as the cost of the projects and implementation.

Download the fact sheets for Bayonne, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Harrison, Kearny, Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority, Newark, North Hudson Sewerage Authority, Paterson, and Perth Amboy.

The fact sheets provide summaries of the projects that have been selected, the implementation schedules, costs, how public participation was conducted, how climate change and environmental justice were considered. They also include information on how to submit comments on the plans and who to contact for more information. While these sheets will be helpful for at-a-glance summaries, the full reports may be helpful for a fuller understanding of how the projects were selected.

Comments on these plans can be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection until January 31. The full combined sewer overflow Long Term Control Plans can be downloaded from the NJDEP website.