Major break in water pipe highlights NJ’s needs

Credit: (Photos by Jo Zimny ​​from Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
File photo: A boil water order was issued to customers in nine cities on Monday after a pressure drop caused by a main water leak in Piscataway.

Major leak in water pipe serving up to 150,000 people in New Jersey highlights urgent need for pipeline renewal, advocates say, as US Senate disputes over infrastructure bill for several billion dollars that should help the state repair its network of cracked pipes, pumps and drains.

New Jersey American Water, the state’s largest investor-owned water utility, issued a rare boil water order on Monday for about 44,000 customers in nine cities after pressure drop caused by the water line leak at Piscataway.

Late Tuesday, the company said the leak had been “mostly isolated” and pressure was being restored. But he continued his order for households to bring the water to a boil for a minute and let it cool before using it.

Customers should use boiled or bottled water for drinking, cooking, mixing formula, juice or drinks, washing vegetables and fruits, making ice, brushing teeth and washing dishes, a declared the company.

She also continued to distribute one case per person of bottled water to residents at five sites in Piscataway and South Plainfield, and the company urged residents to limit their water consumption to basic needs. The company said it could take up to 48 hours after the main line is repaired to confirm the water is safe to drink, and asked households to continue to boil their water until the order is officially ordered. lifting.

Cities in three counties

The towns in Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties are Clark, Dunellen, Edison, Green Brook, Linden, Middlesex, Piscataway, Roselle and South Plainfield.

Households in these towns and surrounding towns served by New Jersey American Water may see discolored water as pressure is restored and only need to run cold faucets for three to five minutes until the water runs out. be clear, the company said.

The order comes as the US Senate continues to debate the size and nature of the infrastructure bill that could include significant funding for the renewal or repair of water infrastructure such as the Piscataway Main.

Jersey Water Works, a nonprofit collaboration campaigning for the renewal of the state’s often dilapidated water infrastructure, estimated it would cost $ 25 billion over 20 years to bring the system to an avoidable level. leaks like the Piscataway incident.

Andy Kricun, one of the collaboration’s new co-chairs, estimated New Jersey could get about $ 3 billion of the $ 55 billion expected in new federal funding for such nationwide upgrades. Combined with previous COVID-19 relief dollars and low-interest loans from the State Infrastructure Bank, the new money would be a substantial down payment on the massive bill facing the state, a- he declared. The Piscataway leak may have been the result of an old pipeline, in which case it would be an example of the need for infrastructure renewal, or it could have been caused by a faulty pipeline, said Kricun, which brought significant improvements to the sewerage system in Camden County when he was head of the County Municipal Utilities Authority.

“This is probably not due to lack of maintenance because the water pipes, when working properly, are leaking full,” he said. “This is probably due to aging infrastructure. He said a boil order is very unusual, “as it should be.”

Waiting for federal funds

It is not clear that New Jersey American Water, as a private company, would be eligible for federal funds, Kricun warned.

But Brian Wahler, mayor of Piscataway, urged residents to pressure their federal officials to complete the federal infrastructure package, which he said would help prevent such incidents in the future.

“This money will help New Jersey as a whole and the Township of Piscataway modernize some of these utility lines,” Wahler said in a video recorded Tuesday morning on the leak site and posted on the township website. “Instead of letting taxpayers pay 100% of the costs, they will ask the federal government to cover part of the costs.

“I think now everyone can understand why we need an infrastructure bill. We want these members of Congress to do the right thing and deal with these kinds of things, ”he said.

Wahler said the repair was made more difficult because the leak occurred at a site where three other water pipes crossed. “It is a monumental task,” he said.

The order to boil water, a “precaution”

Chelsea Kulp, spokesperson for the public service, said the order to boil the water was “quite unusual”. The last time the company placed such an order was in 2019 and for only 1,000 customers. “We haven’t had one of this size for many years,” she said.

The order was issued as a “precaution” against the possibility of microorganisms entering the water supply due to the pressure drop, she said, without being more specific.

But Kricun said the water supply could now be contaminated with bacteria, gasoline or other contaminants in the unfiltered groundwater leaking into the pipe due to the drop in pressure.

“So if the pressure drops, a boil water alert is basically mandatory as a precautionary measure,” he said.

For his part, Kulp declined to say the cause of the leak, the age of the pipe or the cost of repairing it. She said she couldn’t speculate that the leak would have occurred if more funds had been available, but said the company spent $ 464 million in 2020 alone on infrastructure renewal.

When asked if the company expected to receive federal funding for the infrastructure upgrade, Kulp said she would “certainly take advantage of any funds available to us to support investments that help us. to continue to provide safe, reliable and affordable service to our customers ”.

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