A worker drills a hole in a Grand Avenue basement wall to install copper tubing in the final phase of the Newark line replacement program. Upstairs, 82-year-old Juanita Rodgers welcomed the upgrade.
“It’s a good thing because I’ve been here for many, many years and been drinking this stuff and we didn’t know it,” Rodgers said.
Three years ago, Newark discovered that its anti-corrosion inhibitor had stopped working and was leaching lead from old pipes. The federal government said Newark violated clean water standards. Newark told residents to stop drinking the water and gave them water filters. The city launched an eight-year program to replace thousands of senior service lines.
“I’m glad they’re replacing them. And I’m glad it doesn’t cost us anything. So that’s a good thing, ”said Newark homeowner Kelvin Watts. “They charged you, they got you specially insured, and now that they canceled that, they’ll do it for free. So that’s good. “
Last year Essex County loaned Newark $ 120 million to expedite homeowner replacements at no charge. Three years after the violations and one year after receiving the loan, Newark reported that copper tubing replaced nearly 15,000 of 18,000 lead service lines well ahead of schedule.
“The work we’ve done with Joe DiVincenzo, Essex County’s executive director, has been incredibly impressive for the city of Newark, for the people, and not just for Newark, Belleville, Hillside, by the way. And despite all of the economic challenges facing COVID-19, we are almost complete with this lead services exchange program, ”said Ras Baraka, Newark Mayor.
“It’s unheard of what has been done. This hasn’t happened anywhere in New Jersey, whether it’s Paterson, Trenton, or even Flint, Michigan, it still hasn’t happened, ”DiVincenzo said.
Residents can sign up to have their private lines replaced. The city says homeowners have been great partners during the pandemic.
The crews replace 65 lines a day
“Hats off to the residents. When we lacked personal protective equipment, residents in certain areas of the city came out and gave contractors masks and ankle boots to get their feet inside their home. All that shows is that Newark is strong. Our residents believe in Newark, ”said Kareem Adeem, director of Newark’s water and sanitation division.
How can other cities recreate what Newark did? City guides say by committing to get it done.
“It is not only repairable, but also feasible. We say when we put politics aside and come together like the state, the county, the city, “Adeem said.
“You need the money. You need a political commitment, you need a commitment, and by the grace of God we had one in town and in the county to make that happen. The state supported us. You need a commitment, all hands on deck, a commitment to make this happen, ”Baraka said.
Newark continues to urge residents to filter their water until it stops. The water director says the crews are replacing around 65 supply lines a day, of which 5,000 to 6,000 have yet to be done in all five stations by next spring.