The submittal deadline for the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs) has been postponed until October 1, 2020. The submittal deadline was extended because of the impacts of Covid-19. Public outreach on the plans has come to a standstill but it should not stop. In fact, municipalities and utilities now have more time to inform and engage the public in the selection of solutions to stop sewage overflows.
The need to upgrade archaic combined sewer systems that dump sewage into our waterways onto streets needs to be addressed. Residents who are impacted by flooding and sewage overflows still need a say in the final Long Term Control Plans. Questions still remain as to whether these plans will be affordable, keep residents healthy, invest in local jobs, businesses and neighborhoods, and create more green spaces that promote climate resiliency. Stay involved to make sure that these multi-billion dollar plans deliver community benefits and are not decided behind closed doors.
Email and call your CSO permit holder and ask them to hold a series of public virtual meetings on your combined sewer overflow Long term Control Plans before the October 1, 2020 submittal deadline.
Ask your CSO permit holder to release their draft CSO LTCP to their supplemental CSO team and the public for comments 60 days before the plans are due. This will allow for CSO permit holders to review the public input and incorporate it into their plans before they are submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Participate in the June 9, 2020, CSO LTCP Review Workshop hosted by NewarkDIG in partnership with the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign and the Jersey Water Works CSO committee and learn how to review the plans and submit comments.
Follow the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news on the CSO LTCPs.
The Covid-19 crisis has had a severe impact on all of our communities and utilities. The Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign would like to thank the CSO permit holders for requesting an extension and the NJDEP for granting it. Now, let’s use this time to ensure that the people who live, work, and run businesses in these cities have a say in these plans.
In a matter of months, Covid-19 has changed our world dramatically. The lessons we are learning have as much to do with what our world looked like before the coronavirus as what it looks like now.
We are learning that:
Water and wastewater utilities and workers are essential. The Covid-19 crisis has made clear what and who is essential: those treating patients and keeping our hospitals running, our grocery stores open, and our utilities functioning. Water utilities and workers not only deliver a basic necessity for hydration but especially during Covid-19 deliver a necessity for hygiene when sheltering at home. In March, Governor Murphy stepped in to ensure that no New Jerseyan would be left without water during the Covid-19 crisis and called on water utilities to suspend water shut-offs. We are also learning how many households are on the brink of having water, a basic necessity, shut-off.
Our crumbling water infrastructure needs to be repaired before we have a crisis. Water main breaks in New Jersey have left communities without water needed for hygiene and hydration during a health crisis. Combined sewer systems that needed to be repaired before the crisis will need to be repaired after it. The need to upgrade our water infrastructure remains during COVID-19, only now CSO communities, many of which are economically distressed, are faced with budget gaps, in addition to the cost of upgrading their water infrastructure.
Our environment impacts health outcomes. Worldwide stay-at-home orders have given us a glimpse of how the environment can regenerate when polluting industries are put on hold. Here in New Jersey, we have seen a significant drop in pollution levels that cause much of the health problems associated with unhealthy air quality. At the same time, our history of poor air quality has been associated with higher levels of Covid-19 fatalities. Air pollution is not spread evenly, low-income residents and people of color are disproportionately exposed to health-threatening environments in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We are learning that the pandemic is not just a health crisis, it’s an environmental justice crisis.
The pause caused by Covid-19 has made room for reflections on what needs to be done when we hit the start button. This crisis has magnified the inequalities in our society. Now we need to amplify these lessons in the solutions that are implemented in the recovery.
NewarkDIG, in partnership with Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers and the Jersey Water Works CSO Committee, is hosting a workshop to help community advocates around the state learn how to evaluate this complex document and develop comments for submission to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). This understanding is also crucial to advocacy organizations helping to spread the word to residents, business owners, and other stakeholders about the stormwater infrastructure changes that will be decided upon by the 21 CSO communities this year.
The submittal deadline for the final CSO Long Term Control Plans has been postponed 90 days due to the COVID-19 crisis and now must be submitted by October 1, 2020. Draft plans will be made available to the public for comment before the plans are submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Using a draft of the Newark LTCP, this workshop will guide participants through the evaluation process with a particular focus on environmental and engineering specifications, green infrastructure specifications, local job impacts, and financial analysis.
The virtual workshop is being held on Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 from 10 am-noon.
The coronavirus is changing the world rapidly but some things remain the same—toilet paper is the only thing that should be flushed. Anything else clogs our sewers during a time when our water infrastructure is already in need of repair.
NorthJersey.com reporter, Alexis Shanes, interviewed wastewater experts about the impacts of flushable wipes on our sewers during the coronavirus in her article, “Coronavirus cleaning: Flushing that disinfectant wipe? Think again, experts say.” In the article, Shanes describes how flushed wipes can clog sewers. “Flushed items go first to waste pipes in homes and then to town sewer lines that run beneath streets, which can be as small as 18 inches. The flushed wipes eventually end up in larger pipes owned and operated by county utilities, which are as wide as 96 inches. Sewer systems rely mostly on gravity. If wipes collect in a system, they can prevent water from flowing, like leaves in a yard drain.”
An important reminder for people who are using “flushable” wipes to disinfect groceries and take-out orders from the coronavirus is that “flushable” wipes are not biodegradable and will clog sewers and cause sewer back-ups.
Walter Marlowe, Executive Director at Water Environment Foundation, makes another important point about keeping our sewers clean during COVID-19 in Shane’s article, saying, “being self-quarantined at home can be tough. Being self-quarantined at home with a backed-up sewer is much, much worse. Do not flush things that shouldn’t be flushed.”
On Monday, April 6, Hudson TV posted a photo on its Facebook page of plastic gloves that customers used as protection from the coronavirus, littered across a Walmart parking lot with the caption, “Please, throw away used gloves to a trash container.” Similar posts of images of gloves and masks littered on city streets in New Jersey have been posted recently on Facebook. If these plastic gloves get into our sewers they will also cause clogs and back-ups, and put an additional strain on our water infrastructure and essential wastewater workers.
On March 27, ABC News reported on back-to-back water main breaks in Jersey City during the coronavirus. Workers were sent out to repair the water main break and a water truck was sent to neighborhoods without running water. The water main breaks sparked concerns about sanitary conditions for residents left without running water, a necessity year-round, but especially during a pandemic. While the timing of this water main break was unfortunate, it was not surprising as New Jersey’s water infrastructure is in need of repair.
Water and wastewater workers are deemed essential. They continue to repair and operate our aging water infrastructure during the coronavirus. Let’s help them keep us (and themselves!) safe and keep our sewers clean.
From the outset of the combined sewer overflow permits issued in 2015, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) encouraged collaboration between waste water treatment plants and their member municipalities (whose sewage they treat). Of the 25 permits issued, 9 were issued to waste water treatment plants and 16 to municipalities, resulting in 9 regional collaborations. Municipalities and waste treatment plants have been working regionally on water quality monitoring, modeling of the sewer systems and public participation as well as regional alternatives like sewer treatment plant expansion and regional storage tanks.
What does this mean for the final Long Term Control Plans?
The plans will include regional alternatives that involve upgrades to waste water treatment plants and the sections of the collection system that they own and operate and could serve one or more municipalities. The plans will also include municipal alternatives that involve upgrades within the collection system that municipalities own and operate and on municipal land. Regional and municipal permit holders will submit regional Long Term Control Plans that may include chapters or appendixes that focus on the municipal alternatives.
Who is collaborating on regional plans?
The sewer treatment plants and combined sewer overflow municipalities they serve are working together to develop the regional plans. These include:
Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCMUA)
Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA)
Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties (JMEUC)
Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA)
North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority (NBMUA) – Woodcliff Sewage Treatment Plant
North Hudson Sewerage Authority (NHSA)* – Adams Street Wastewater Treatment Plant and River Road Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC)
Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (JCMUA)
North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority (NBMUA)
*NHSA owns the pipes and the treatment plant. The following cities are served by NHSA but are not permit holders: Hoboken, Union City, West New York, and Weehawken.
What are the regional alternatives?
The regional alternatives are infrastructure upgrades that the sewer treatment plants can make such as increasing the amount of flow to the plants and the plants’ treatment capacity. Bypass of secondary treatment, also known as wet weather blending, effluent blending, or high-rate treatment is being considered by most of the wastewater treatment plants to increase the capacity of the plant. Learn more about this option in this fact sheet developed by the Clean Waterways, Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative organized by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. Improvements to sewer infrastructure that the plants operate and own are also being considered like increasing the size of the pipes, pumping capacity and regulator modifications to increase the flow to the plants. Regional storage tanks and tunnels are also under consideration by the Bergen County Utilities Authority, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and North Hudson Sewerage Authority to store flow during wet weather and pump it back to the treatment plants during dry weather.
North Hudson Sewerage Authority is the only sewer treatment plant that owns the plant, sewer system, and outfalls. Their plan includes sewer treatment plant upgrades and more municipal focused infrastructure upgrades like green infrastructure, and inflow and infiltration upgrades. Find a full list of the regional alternatives being considered from the Development and Evaluation of Alternatives Reports at the end of this post.
The municipal alternatives that are being considered by municipal permit holders include: storage tanks, sewer separation, inflow and infiltration reduction, treatment of CSO discharge, green infrastructure, water conservation, and sewer system optimization. Regional and municipal alternatives will be combined in the Long Term Control Plans so that both municipal and regional permit holders meet requirements to reduce combined sewer overflows and water quality standards.
Who will be held responsible?
Although the municipalities and sewer treatment plants have been working collaboratively for the last five years, each permit holder will be issued their own permits and will be held individually responsible for meeting permit requirements.
Both regional and municipal alternatives to combined sewer overflows will have community impacts and benefits. It is important for residents to review the Development and Evaluation of Alternatives Reports (DEARs) and look at both the regional reports and the municipal reports or appendixes that include municipal alternatives to understand the options that are being considered. A list of regional alternatives is also at the end of this post and the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign developed fact sheets for nine of the reports. Permit holders are now in the process of selecting infrastructure upgrades from the alternatives they evaluated in the DEARs and will decide what they will include in their Long Term Control Plans. Ask your CSO contacts for more information on the options they are considering and to release their draft Long Term Control Plans to the public for comments before they submit their plans to the NJDEP.
List of regional and municipal alternatives from the DEARs:
Bergen County Utilities Authority, Hackensack, Ridgefield Park, and Fort Lee:
Expansion of water pollution control facility capacity
Wet weather blending
Utilize inline storage in interceptor for CSO
Municipal alternatives include: green infrastructure, sewer separation, treatment of CSO discharge, storage tanks and tunnels.
Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), Camden and Gloucester City:
Expand wet weather treatment capacity of waste water treatment plant to 220 million gallons daily (MGD) via effluent blending
An additional 130 MGD wet weather capacity at or near the CCMUA wastewater treatment plant through a dedicated process train using ballasted flocculation or other high rate treatment process to address Cooper River outfall
Municipal alternatives include: restoring the City of Camden’s collection system, green infrastructure, satellite treatment, storage, and sewer system optimization.
Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties (JMEUC) and the City of Elizabeth
Satellite treatment facilities (Actiflo with PAA)
Effluent blending at wet weather treatment plant
Municipal alternatives include: sewer separation, storage tanks, tunnel storage, green infrastructure, and inflow and infiltration reduction.
Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA) and Perth Amboy
High-rate treatment with disinfection
Municipal alternatives include: storage tanks, storage tunnels, pump station expansion, treatment of CSO discharge, and green infrastructure.
North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority (NBMUA) – Woodcliff Sewage Treatment Plant and Guttenberg
Woodcliff Sewage Treatment Plant upgrade and expansion, and wet weather blending to allow for wet weather flows of 10 MGD
Municipal alternatives include: inflow and infiltration reduction, sewer separation and green infrastructure.
Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC), Bayonne, East Newark, Harrison, Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (JCMUA), Kearny, Newark, North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority (NBMUA) and Paterson
Regional storage tanks and tunnels
Secondary bypass treatment
Newark regulator modifications
Hudson County force main
Parallel interceptor (Newark, Kearny, Harrison, East Newark)
Jersey City pipe
Municipal alternatives include: treatment of CSO discharge, storage tanks, sewer separation, green infrastructure, sewer system optimization, and inflow and infiltration reduction.
North Hudson Sewerage Authority (NHSA) – Adams Street Wastewater Treatment Plant
On Wednesday, March 4, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held an environmental justice listening session in the City of Paterson. Riché Smiley Outlaw, the Director of the Office of Environmental Justice opened the listening session. According to the Office of Environmental Justice website, the office “aims to guide the DEP’s program areas and state agencies in working to achieve environmental justice, empower residents who are often outside of the decision-making process of government, and address environmental concerns to improve the quality of life in New Jersey’s overburdened communities.
This listening session is part of the DEP’s efforts to support environmental justice in New Jersey. DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh greeted a full room of Paterson residents to hear and about the environmental issues facing the community. Commissioner McCabe engaged residents by saying that, “we need you to point us to where we need to focus here in Paterson.” She brought representatives from her department and other departments integral to supporting environmental justice, such as the Department of Economic Development and the Attorney General’s office, to answer questions brought up by community members.
Several community members raised concerns about flooding. One resident described a sewer stench during rainstorms. Susan Rosenwinkle, Bureau Chief from the Division of Water Quality explained that Paterson is one of 21 cities with combined sewer systems and that the City of Paterson is working on a plan to reduce combined sewer overflows. She also committed to looking into the specific source of the odor.
Illegal dumping was another major concern that was raised as well as air pollution, water quality, and the impacts of contaminated sites on surrounding neighborhoods. The DEP stressed the importance of identifying problems and making them aware of it. Although the DEP could not address every issue raised, they said that they would work with the City of Paterson to address these issues and that this would be part of a continued effort.
On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, several members of NewarkDIG (Doing Infrastructure Green), a Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers partner, made a presentation to the Newark City Council on the upcoming final report of the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Long Term Control Plan (LTCP). NewarkDIG presented for 45 minutes bringing council members up to speed on the basics of CSOs, a brief history of the permit regulations, a review of the considered alternatives and a breakdown of the costs. A key component of the presentation was a discussion of the importance of community outreach and input. We specifically asked the Council members to take action in partnering with us and other community groups to host meetings sharing information about stormwater and the LTCP. Additionally, we asked that the Council approve the upcoming sewer rate study to be proposed by the Water & Sewer Dept., to begin work on stormwater ordinance changes for developers, monitor regional plans to be certain that the needs of the City of Newark are not ignored and to stay involved and aware as they will need to approve the final LTCP in order to secure funding for implementation. Council members present remained engaged, following along with the slide deck, and were prepared with questions at the end of the official presentation.
After a history of the NewarkDIG collaborative by Kim Gaddy of Clean Water Action and the NewarkDIG Green Infrastructure Reformer Coordinator, Nicole Miller emphasized the importance of Newark administrative and council officials taking ownership of the process to keep our streets and rivers clean and safe. After all, they are the final decision-makers and action-takers with regard to the LTCP, which is due to be completed by June 1.
Drew Curtis of Ironbound Community Corporation stressed the important role of speaking to and hearing from the community on these long-range infrastructure plans. The goals of the LTCP permit process require a reduction of CSO events or volume along with a reduction of harmful pathogens in waterways as a result of CSOs. Drew brought up the many community meetings we and our partners have held that have identified the additional goals of reduced basement and street flooding, the need for community funds to be used for community benefits (such as green space) and the importance of local jobs to come out of this local infrastructure spending. In fact, there are two pilot programs focused on national green infrastructure training certification happening in the city that could be expanded.
Dr. Chris Obrupta with the Rutgers Water Resources Program explained that green infrastructure’s benefits extend beyond stormwater retention and can even aid in job creation, climate resiliency, heat island reduction, among other efforts. Dr. Obrupta noted that none of the alternatives would solve the problem on their own and recommended that the Council consider not just the base requirements of the permit but also what additional benefits could be gained by combining alternatives creatively.
Council President Crump suggested an internal committee set up within the Council to monitor and focus on the CSO Long Term Control Plan. Councilman Gonzalez was especially interested in making sure our community outreach was more robust and he volunteered to chair the subcommittee. Councilman Osbourne also volunteered to join the committee. Councilman Gonzalez was also vocal about Newark requiring new building development to have stormwater control. He suggested to his fellow council members that they should amend the zoning ordinance to meet this requirement.
The response of the council members was precisely what NewarkDIG was looking for when we set up the meeting. We have plans to re-engage with the Council’s internal committee as more information becomes available on the LTCP. NewarkDIG and partners will also continue to bring members of the community from different wards forward to speak to the Council on street and basement flooding and the need for infrastructure changes that address those issues.
Students from Winfield Scott School #2 in Elizabeth learned about combined sewer overflows, as part of a new education and outreach program implemented by Future City Inc. The program provided 88 students from third, seventh, and eighth grades with Rotary International dictionaries as a vehicle to for information about Combined Sewer Systems and the Sewage Free Streets and Rivers campaign. Most students, like most adults, did not know about CSOs until Future City Inc.’s presentation.
Each student received a dictionary and used it to complete crossword puzzles with words relating to CSOs. Students discussed the challenges of CSOs and brought home flyers in English, Spanish, and Kreol to continue the discussion with their families. During these discussions, students explored what they can do to keep their streets clean. Students left the program reporting that they gained new understanding and appreciation of the importance of keeping litter out of their streets, and pledged to help prevent overflows.
This outreach and education program was supported by a capacity building grant from the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign.
New Jersey Communities Discuss Climate Change Impact on Multi-Billion Dollar Sewer Improvement Plans
In New Jersey, 21 fast-growing communities with outdated sewer systems that combine rainfall with industrial and domestic sewage are finding they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. When it rains in these communities, raw sewage pours into rivers and backs up into basements and onto streets, known as Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). Increased flooding from sea level rise, more intense storms, and extreme heat due to climate change are compounding the existing environmental and health concerns in New Jersey’s CSO communities.
New Jersey Future hosted this event in partnership with the Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers campaign and the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance on January 28 in the city of Elizabeth to discuss the importance of the state’s CSO communities incorporating climate change as a critical factor in planned upgrades to wastewater infrastructure systems.
Approximately 80 community members, engineers, utility directors, environmental advocates, students, design professionals, and media attended the forum at which CSO and climate change experts discussed integrating climate change solutions into CSO Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs). The communities’ LTCPs are due to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) by June 1 and will be implemented over the next 30-50 years while towns are simultaneously battling climate change. Governor Phil Murphy recently signed Executive Order 100, which requires the integration of climate change and sea level rise into the state’s regulatory and permit programs, including CSO permits.
Forum panelists included New Jersey Future Executive Director and panel moderator Pete Kasabach; Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage; Dave Rosenblatt, New Jersey’s first Chief Resilience Officer; Janice Brogle, Acting Director of Water Quality for NJDEP; Dr. Marjorie Kaplan, Associate Director of the Rutgers Climate Institute; Andy Kricun, Executive Director and Chief Engineer for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority; Alan Cohn, Managing Director of Integrated Water Management for the NYCDEP; Kim Gaddy, Environmental Justice Organizer for Clean Water Action; and Jackie Park Albaum, Director of Urban Agriculture for Groundwork Elizabeth.
The panelists discussed adding green infrastructure to towns as a solution to help reduce CSOs as well as flooding and extreme heat due to climate change. The need for creative solutions to address the impacts of climate change related to CSOs was highlighted, as was the importance of environmental justice and engaging communities in solutions. Cost was a prominent topic of discussion, given that the wastewater infrastructure improvements are expected to cost billions of dollars. Implementing the plans will have significant effects on residents and business owners in the CSO communities for generations to come.
Go Home and Ask Questions
Attendees were urged to continue the conversation started at the forum in their own communities and with their elected officials and utilities by asking them how they are considering climate change in selecting alternatives to CSOs. Three important questions residents can ask are:
How are the alternatives to CSOs being designed to withstand the impacts of sea level rise and increased precipitation caused by climate change?
How are social vulnerabilities to climate change being taken into consideration? For example, are maps being developed that show flooding and combined sewer outfalls in relation to income, minority status, race, and age?
Are the communities who will be impacted by climate change being taken into consideration in the selection and siting of alternatives to CSOs?
New Jersey Future is a state leader in the area of wastewater infrastructure, including CSOs, as part of its mission to make smart investments in infrastructure to increase New Jersey’s competitiveness and support healthy communities where people want to live and work.
Groundwork USA Climate Safe Neighborhoods – Maps that show the connection between housing discrimination and climate change and how Groundwork communities are using maps and data to build resilience to extreme heat and flooding.
“The permit requires a public participation process that engages the affected public, including hydraulically connected communities, throughout the three phases of the LTCP and through the use of various outreach methods.” NJDEP Public Participation Guidance.
Supplemental CSO teams have an important role in community outreach. These teams meet periodically and provide feedback on the Long Term Control Plan planning process, review new information and share that information with impacted communities. The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission held a regional meeting on Jan. 9 with its members: City of Bayonne, Borough of East Newark, Town of Guttenberg, Town of Harrison, Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority, Town of Kearny, City of Newark, City of Paterson, and the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority.
Act Now: Now is the time to talk to your municipal leaders about the alternatives to combined sewer overflows that will benefit your community and stop sewage overflows. Find contact information for you municipal leaders and CSO contacts here.
Financial Capabilities Assessment: Financial capability assessments showed the median household income for each municipality and the calculation of a two percent rate increase on water bills. More information is necessary to determine if this is a sustainable option, and permit holders will decide whether to investigate further.
Water Quality: Water quality models showed that combined sewer overflows are impacting water quality and that some, but not all, of the water bodies are meeting water quality standards.
Public Engagement: There will be at least one more public meeting before the June 1, 2020 submittal deadline for the CSO Long Term Control Plans. A decision has not been made about meetings past that date.
Comments on Development and Evaluation of Alternatives Reports: In total, 134 comments were submitted. Three areas received the most comments: green infrastructure, public input and outreach, and the Development and Implementation of Regional Alternatives.