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Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Community Leadership Action Program

Join the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Campaign’s– 

Community Leadership Action Program


Are you concerned about increased flooding and polluted waterways in your community?

Did you know that this flooding may contain dirty household wastewater and raw sewage due to antiquated water systems in 21 NJ communities?

Do you want to help your community to solve these problems while enhancing your advocacy and leadership skills, and while building a network of peers making an impact?

If you are interested in applying to the upcoming spring 2024 cohort, please use this link:


2023 Program Testimonials

“I greatly enjoyed the opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and hearing from experts. I think this served as a major education session for community leaders as well.”

 “Very engaging! Great speaker choices. Enjoyed the well-rounded topics and the detailed presentations, especially about successful community organizing and ways to participate in influencing the Jersey City council, and promote green infrastructure initiatives around JC.”

“This program allowed me to meet and network with local activists while gaining the knowledge needed to advocate for my neighbors.”



21 New Jersey municipalities, with combined sewer systems, are working on local solutions to reduce the raw sewage discharged into nearby rivers, streams, as well as street and basement flooding caused by heavy rains and water systems that can’t handle the overflows.

Your community needs your help to accelerate these solutions and ensure they provide true benefits to the community as soon as possible.

Join a network of peers who want to be part of the solution and help lead efforts to solve this critical issue!


Sewage Free Streets and Rivers (SFSR) Community Leadership Action Program is a four session cohort-based program providing grassroots community members and leaders residing in New Jersey’s Combined Sewer System communities an opportunity to deepen knowledge on local flooding and combined sewage overflow (CSO) issues, enhance leadership and advocacy skills, and explore the best ways to take positive action for themselves and their community.


May 11: 10:00am to 2:00pm

May 16: 6:30 to 8:30pm

May 30: 6:30 to 8:30pm

June 15: 10:00am to 2:00pm

Program Participant Takeaways

  • Learn why their neighborhoods are flooding and raw sewage is discharging into waterways.
  • Clarify the solutions that will make a difference.
  • Discover new ways to advocate and influence decision makers.
  • Build a network of peers advocating for an equitable, sustainable, climate resilient future.

$600 stipend for full participation



NJDEP Release of Combined Sewer Overflow Permit is a Major Step Towards Eliminating Harmful Sewage Flooding in NJ Communities

December 13, 2022

Michael Atkins
Communications Manager, New Jersey Future

NJDEP Release of Combined Sewer Overflow Permit is a Major Step Towards Eliminating Harmful Sewage Flooding in NJ Communities

Residents urged to participate in the 60-day review process; attend an educational permit review “how-to” workshop

TRENTON, NJ — Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are a clear and present danger to communities across New Jersey, threatening public health and safety during flooding events when sewage can flow into rivers, streams, public streets, and private properties. Last week, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) took a vital first step in addressing the pernicious issue of CSOs by releasing the first in a series of permits containing local strategies to repair sewer systems, and regulate and reduce overflows in impacted communities. New Jersey communities served by combined sewer systems (CSSs) that lead to these overflows are seeking NJDEP approval for projects that will contribute to the ultimate solution of eliminating sewage overflowing into their communities and waterways. This permit release marks a major milestone for New Jersey to meet the goal of sewage-free streets and rivers, and a turning point in our ability to address this issue throughout the state.

Since 2015, NJDEP and community stakeholders have endeavored to address the issue of CSOs dumping sewage into water bodies and backing up into streets and homes by requiring 21 impacted communities to develop Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) by 2020. These plans will be implemented through a series of five-year permits. The first permit, as announced by NJDEP last week, is for the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority—Woodcliff Sewer Treatment Plant and Town of Guttenberg who own separate portions of one connected CSS and discharges overflows into the Hudson River when the capacity of the collection system and/or the sewage treatment plant is exceeded, typically due to heavy rainfall.

CSSs are sewers that were designed many decades ago to collect rainwater and snowmelt runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. CSSs are no longer permitted in New Jersey for new communities, but many older cities continue to operate existing CSSs.

Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers and our partners look forward to reviewing this important permit and providing comments to ensure the final permit achieves its intended comprehensive approach to eliminating CSO flooding in an equitable, affordable, transparent way that also reflects individual community priorities and values.

“We are glad the process is underway and thank the NJDEP for shepherding communities who are actively seeking solutions and for ensuring a fair 60 day comment period. We also acknowledge the hard work completed by municipalities, utilities, community members, and community organizations to develop plans over the last seven years. Moving forward, it is critical that NJDEP prioritizes release of the CSO permits impacting environmental justice communities. The burden from further delay in reducing flooding is too high of a cost to residents who are already experiencing many daily pressures,” shares Suzanne Aptman, Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Program Manager.

NJDEP is providing a 60-day public comment period, ending February 13, 2023, during which community members, officials, and community organizations in the Woodcliff neighborhood of North Bergen and town of Guttenberg are urged to carefully review the permit actions and provide comments to NJDEP to ensure the proposed projects, timelines, and costs are the best solutions for that area.

This is a critical moment for directly impacted residents and for stakeholders in the other 20 CSO communities. Modifications made to this first CSO permit will inform the process, projects, timelines, and costs finalized in the other regional CSO permits expected to be released in 2023. As such, community members, officials, and community organizations in the other NJ CSO communities are encouraged to participate in this permit’s public comment process.

Written comments should be submitted by February 13. Two virtual public hearings for oral comments are scheduled for January 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and again from 6:00–8:00 p.m.

“Getting involved in the 60-day public comment period is critical. The people who live, work and run businesses in these cities will pay for these upgrades and should have a strong role in shaping the plans. Community voices are needed to ensure that the solutions are affordable, keep residents healthy, invest in local jobs, businesses and neighborhoods, and create more green spaces that promote climate resiliency,” said Michele Langa, staff attorney at NY/NJ Baykeeper.

A “How-To” Workshop for the Public

Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Campaign and the Jersey Water Works CSO Committee will offer workshops and guidance to support community engagement in the CSO permit public comment process. These workshops are free and open to the public, municipal officials, and the press to attend to learn more about the issue.

The first virtual workshop will be on January 18 from 7:00–8:30 p.m. During this workshop we will explain how permits work, what should be included or is missing, and how the public can effectively weigh in by providing written or oral testimony during the public comment window. Feel free to invite fellow community members, municipal officials, and community-based organizations. Sign up here to join the workshop or to receive information that will help you to submit written and oral comments during the comment period process.

The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign collaborates with residents, community organizations and small business owners to advocate for and shape the solutions that were adopted in their Long Term Control Plan and that will be included in their first five-year permits to reduce localized flooding and the raw sewage dumped into our waterways.

Communities With Combined-Sewer Systems and a CSO permit (list)
Bayonne, City of Camden, East Newark, Elizabeth, Fort Lee, Gloucester City, Guttenberg, Hackensack, Harrison, Hoboken, Jersey City, Kearny, Newark, North Bergen, Paterson, Perth Amboy, Ridgefield Park, Trenton, Union City, Weehawken and West New York.

For further questions or inquiries, please contact Michael Atkins, 609-217-5569 or via email


Make your voice heard with NJDEP in January for reduced NJ flooding and sewage overflows!

Make Your Voice Heard with NJDEP in January for Reduced NJ Flooding and Sewage Overflows!

A Free Virtual Public Workshop:
Community Driven Input on Upcoming Combined Sewage Overflow Proposed Projects

Co-hosted by the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign and the Jersey Water Works (JWW) CSO Committee

 January 18, 2023, 7:00–8:30 p.m.

Sign up here

As a community member or community organization you have a chance to provide needed input on the most recent New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) proposed strategies and projects to reduce flooding and sewage overflows.

We want to support you to participate and offer your comments with ease and impact.

NJDEP is giving the public 60 days—until February 13, 2023—to comment – in writing and orally – on the recently released DRAFT North Bergen/Guttenberg, NJ CSO Permit (which allows certain strategies and projects to be implemented).

If you live or work in North Bergen’s Woodcliff Neighborhood or in Guttenberg, we highly encourage your participation. Modifications made to this first CSO permit will inform the process, projects, timelines, and costs finalized in the other regional CSO permits expected to be released in 2023.

As such, community members, officials, and community organizations in the other NJ CSO communities are encouraged to participate in this permit’s public comment process.

During this workshop, we’ll make it simple to understand:

  • What Combined Sewer Systems (CSSs) and Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are.
  • Why these NJDEP CSO permits are important for protecting the environment and public health.
  • What strategies, projects, and public engagement efforts should be included in an effective CSO permit.
  • Concerns around what may be missing in this first draft permit (for Woodcliff, North Bergen/Guttenberg, New Jersey).
  • How to provide comments before the permits are finalized (in writing and during oral testimony).

Sign up here and invite other organizations!

Use the above sign up even if you can’t join the workshop, so we can email you suggestions, tips, and reminders on joining the public comment period! Or email us at: and/or

Learn more about the background on CSOs, the Long Term Control plans and permits:

Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Community Leaders Fellowship Program

We are excited to announce the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers Community Leaders Fellowship Program. The program is for emerging community leaders from communities with combined sewer systems who want to increase their understanding of water policy, advocacy, equity, organizing, and communications while expanding their networks.

Local leaders will build their capacity to affect the implementation of the combined sewer overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plans and longer-term decisions related to climate change, flooding, and infrastructure and gain permanent skills and relationships that endure beyond this project. The program involves six bi-weekly virtual sessions (Wednesday, April 6 – Wednesday, June 15) with the potential for in-person events based on interest and availability. The program will be facilitated by experts in water policy, environmental justice, climate change, data, community organizing, and policy. Participants will receive a $600 stipend (distributed in two installments based on attendance). Space is limited, so register soon!

The Sewage-Free Streets and River campaign is committed to combating historical and ongoing exclusion by advancing leadership opportunities in underinvested communities. We are seeking applicants who are representative of CSO communities, specifically people of color and lower-income individuals.

For session details and information on how to apply, visit:

Stormwater Stories Open Mic at Paterson Falls

(Stormwater stories interviews at Paterson Falls. Sheila Baker Gujral interviewing Eva Razak)

“My problem is every time it rains, I get water in my basement, and then the sewers smell,” said Yolanda Mateo, a Paterson resident. “This last time, the flow looked like a river coming down and into my basement where I have the line of the electric. I was scared.”

Yolanda was one of many Paterson residents who shared her story at the Dec. 4, 2021 Stormwater Stories Open Mic at Paterson Falls. Struck by the devastation of Tropical Storm Ida, The Paterson Green Team, Waterspirit, The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, and Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers collaborated to record firsthand accounts of how Paterson residents are impacted by flooding. These stories revealed that although Tropical Storm Ida severely impacted residents, it was not the first flood and will not be the last one. The flooding issues in Paterson have been occurring for decades.  

We are compiling these stories into a video and will share the video and clips in our upcoming newsletter, on the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers website, and on social media. Here are some excerpts from the stories we gathered.

Frances Harrison:

“I’m here at the fabulous Great Falls and the Passaic River running behind us to talk about the problems that Paterson has with flooding. This river, which was introduced to the city from Alexander Hamilton, was a lifesaver 200 years ago. Now with the infrastructure and overflow of sewage of the city, this river has become a very big problem for Paterson. Ida came through, and the neighbors a block away from me—their basement was flooded up to the knee. I went to my neighbors—I got a little water in my house, but to see water up to the knees of a full basement of five rooms, it was just horrendous.”

Julio Hernandez:

“It’s a problem, and every time I’m fixing the driveway—it cracks our driveway and it’s an unending repair. Our foundation is getting mold from all the water coming in. It’s a big problem and it happens all the time. We don’t know what to do anymore. We talked to the City, and they told us there’s a drainage problem in our street. It’s cracking our sidewalk, and we don’t know what to do anymore.”

William Priestley:

“I’ve been a resident of Paterson for 75 years and a resident of People’s Park for 75 years. This problem has been going on since I was a little child. We used to play in these puddles years ago because we didn’t know about polio and all that stuff. But today, all these germs and diseases have come around, yet the kids are still in the streets playing. So it’s very dangerous with all the floods and conditions in Paterson. It should have been done 75 years ago. It still exists today in Paterson. We don’t need so many other things. We need this issue done. And really, it’s a shame. With all the money we have in the city of Paterson, nothing has been done and I’m sorry for that. The falls are beautiful, and the city is beautiful. Let’s keep it beautiful! The City of Paterson and State of New Jersey should fund the people who have all these disasters, basements being flooded out—they should fund them. Either for a sump pump, winterization, or something. It’s a real shame. They can afford it. Let them get it done. Thank you!”   

Martha Arencibia:

“Where I live, with my neighbors we hear lightning and thunder and we go into activation panic mode. We have to leave our homes, because we can’t stay there. All we can do is take our cars and locate them to higher ground so they don’t flood. We then come back to find the neighborhood in disarray. Cars all over the place. With Ida, September 1st, this year 2021, I had five feet of water in my basement. I lost everything: two furnaces, two hot water heaters, and personal belongings. I mean, it’s not even about the money. It’s about the effect of the disaster and the health hazard with no resources. You can’t fix something that is not covered by insurance. How do you recover? This is something that needs to be addressed. I can’t express it enough. How it affects us. If it doesn’t happen to you, you’re blessed. I’m so happy for you! But it happens to some neighbors, it happens to some bodegas, stores with food in it, our schools, our houses of worship, so we’re affected no matter what. Paterson is one of 21 municipalities in this area that has a combined sewer system, and I can’t express enough that there’s so much federal money to be had. Let’s tap into that money so we could give Paterson the resources that we need for our community because this is injustice, what we have going on here. If our elected officials do not push this subject, we have a serious CSO problem in Paterson and all the other municipalities that have this issue. We really have to work together as a community—bring more partners to come into a platform that we could actually tap into the resources that are now available. This is a crisis for humanity. It’s time that we talk [about] CSO.  It’s time that we address this problem, because I’m a flood victim. I’m not just a resident of Paterson. I’m a flood victim. I can’t even swim! But anyway, that’s it.”                              

New Jersey is Planning for Resilience

New Jersey’s regional and local governments are learning how to incorporate the impacts of climate change into decisions about land use, housing, open space, and infrastructure investments. The State of New Jersey was awarded a $15 million federal grant as part of the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in 2016. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is administering $10 million for the Resilient NJ program. The remaining $5 million is being used to develop a toolkit of best practices for regional stormwater infrastructure.

Resilient NJ funds the development and implementation of four Resilience and Adaptation Action Plans for the Atlantic County Coastal, Northeastern, Raritan River and Bay, and Long Beach Island regions. For each region, municipal, non-profit, and consulting firms were awarded grants to develop their own regional plans. The regions were selected from the nine counties that were most adversely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Each region includes three adjacent municipalities. Two of the regions, Northeastern and Raritan River and Bay, include municipalities that also have combined sewer systems and are planning substantial investments to upgrade their sewer systems.

The first phase of Resilient NJ was launched in Spring 2021 with regional planning efforts that include a strong emphasis on public input. The focus of the Spring 2021 phase was to develop a vision and priorities, while the summer focused on risks and tools. Now, the regions are working on potential solutions. Looking ahead to 2022, phase two of the program will involve another round of stakeholder engagement on Action Plan Implementation. 

Addressing combined sewer overflows has been a topic of discussion in the meetings for the Northeastern region, where all of the adjacent municipalities—Bayonne, Jersey City, Newark, and Hoboken—have combined sewer systems. One participant noted in Resilient Northeastern NJ’s recently released Vision and Priorities Report that “residents in the North Ward [of Newark] are now starting to experience the effects of flooding in their community that is believed to be the result of capacity constraints of the City’s stormwater conveyance system during precipitation events as it relates to development.” Northeastern New Jersey is soliciting feedback on this report, as well as feedback on flood risks and resilience solutions. Meeting minutes and more opportunities to engage and provide feedback can be found on all four of the regional project websites.

What should be in the next CSO permit?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) wants to hear from people who are interested, concerned, or impacted by combined sewer overflows (CSOs) about what should be in the next combined sewer overflow (CSO) permit. The forthcoming CSO permits will state the specific projects and timelines that each municipal permit holder will implement in the next five years, as well as general conditions that will apply to all of the permits related to issues like public engagement and metrics for evaluating the projects. 

A stakeholder process kicked off in late October with a questionnaire that included the 2015 permit condition for public engagement and asked about issues and solutions related to public engagement, Supplemental CSO Teams, guidance documents, metrics, climate change, and environmental justice. The deadline for submitting the questionnaire is Friday, Nov. 19. To be included in the stakeholder process, email A stakeholder meeting will be scheduled for early December 2021.

This is What an Environmental Injustice Looks Like

Trash builds up in front of businesses in Paterson a month after Hurricane Ida. Photo Credit: Martha Arencibia (Paterson, NJ)

Our worst fears about the impacts of flooding on our outdated wastewater infrastructure were realized in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Paterson residents have been under a boil water advisory for six weeks, 25 people were killed in New Jersey, and hundreds of residents from Elizabeth have been left for weeks without permanent housing. 

Six weeks after the storm, residents are losing patience. “Enough is enough” is the rallying cry of Paterson, NJ resident Martha Arencibia. Ida was not the first storm to cause contaminated sewage water to flood Martha’s home, and it certainly will not be the last. She’s done everything she can to protect her home from flooding, but the water still finds a way. Martha spent her own money to install a sewer trap in her basement, became a local advocate for solutions to combined sewer overflows (CSOs), initiated an adopt-a-catch basin program, organized public outreach meetings, and informed the State about CSO issues in Paterson. She even started a petition to urge officials at all levels of government to take immediate action to stop sewage flooding in Paterson, NJ.

Plans to upgrade New Jersey’s combined sewer systems were submitted on Oct. 30, 2020. Nearly a year—and many storms—later, communities are still waiting in unimaginable circumstances for answers, solutions, and action. In response to the lack of communication with the public, the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign requested that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) hold a series of public meetings with the municipal and utility permit holders to respond to community comments on the CSO Long Term Control Plans and to gather feedback on how to engage residents in the implementation of these plans. NJDEP Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gardner responded to our requests in a letter informing us that the Division of Water Quality will be reaching out to stakeholders in the near future to conduct stakeholder sessions regarding the CSO permit requirements and their relationship to the important issues mentioned in our letter. Gardner stated that “the intent of these sessions will be to gather feedback, which can be used to generate permit provisions.”



CSO Permit Update

Projects that will reduce flooding and sewage overflows are coming. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will start the process of releasing the next round of five-year Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) permits within the next three months. These permits will include the green and gray infrastructure projects approved by the NJDEP to reduce CSOs. The cost, timeline, and projects will be included in the permits, which are based on the approved 20-30 year CSO Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs). The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign is advocating for overarching requirements for public participation, green infrastructure, climate change, and environmental justice to be included in all of the forthcoming permits.


In 2015, the NJDEP issued five-year CSO permits, which “permitted” 25 municipalities and utilities that own and operate combined sewer outfalls to continue to overflow while they met the nine minimum controls and developed Long Term Control Plans. In 2020, all of the permit holders submitted their plans to the NJDEP. Community stakeholders had three months to review the plans and submit comments, while the NJDEP conducted its own review of the plans and drafted its response letters.


The first round of comment letters from the NJDEP on the LTCPs asked municipal and utility permit holders to revise their plans by addressing flooding, prioritizing projects with the most impact, and taking climate change into account. At this point, the NJDEP has received revisions from most of the permit holders. There is no set timeline for moving forward, but representatives of the NJDEP informed us that the first CSO permit will go out in the next three months and that there will be a public hearing. The remaining CSO permits are being worked on simultaneously. 

Hurricane Ida Demonstrated the Urgent Need for Sewer Upgrades

Photo Credit: Hannah Binder (Hoboken, NJ)

The flooding from Hurricane Ida emphasized the urgent need for major investments in New Jersey’s wastewater infrastructure. Streets were flooded, and sewer backups were pervasive in communities with combined sewer systems. Indeed, the 100-year storm has proven to be a once-in-a-decade affair. The impacts from the storm raise two important questions:

  1. How do we capitalize on the increasing attention devoted to the infrastructure funding and repairs we need to make our communities climate-resilient?
  2. How do we provide immediate assistance to residents and businesses suffering from property damage?

Federal assistance is needed to not only address the immediate damage caused by the storm, but to support larger infrastructure projects that will prevent future calamities as well. Hudson, Essex, Mercer, and Union counties are now eligible to apply for disaster relief assistance along with Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset counties. Governor Murphy is urging everyone who experienced damage from Hurricane Ida to log their damages in order to receive assistance “as quickly as possible.”

Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has already reached New Jersey. These funds are intended to provide relief to individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19 and can also be used for “necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.” Additional substantial federal funding for wastewater upgrades could be coming to New Jersey from the pending federal infrastructure bill. In an interview with National Public Radio, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop committed the majority of the prospective dollars from the federal infrastructure bill to “flood mitigation because you can’t be dealing with flooding issues every single year.” According to the White House, the pending federal infrastructure bill is the “largest investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in American history, delivering clean water to millions of families. The bill would provide $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure to replace lead service lines and pipes, and another $50 billion would go toward making our water systems more resilient. 

Federal funding for infrastructure seems to be lining up with the finalization of combined sewer overflow Long Term Control Plans, so the next few months will be crucial for determining how these funds are used. Hurricane Ida definitely showed that upgrading our combined sewer systems should be at the top of our lists.