Thousands of lead pipes tainting N.J. water will be replaced

The capital of New Jersey is going to great lengths to take the lead.

City officials gathered in the Berkeley Square neighborhood of West Trenton on Thursday to launch the major project – although they have not yet raised all the funds for it.

Trenton Water Works – a 200-year-old utility company owned and operated by the city that serves 217,000 customers in Trenton, Hamilton, Lawrence, Ewing, and Hopewell Township – plans to spend $ 150 million over the next five years to replace more than 36,000 pipelines in the water system.

Replacement work will begin in Hamilton and Lawrence this month, TWW spokesman Mike Walker said, followed by Trenton and Ewing in February. No work is being done in Hopewell Township as there are no senior service lines servicing properties in the city.

“Our deep commitment to protecting our service customers and consumers from lead in drinking water is genuine and comprehensive,” said Reed Gusciora, Mayor of Trenton.

“Our plan is to remove all lead services from the TWW system within five years and to significantly improve the water filtration system, the water distribution system and the TWW facilities.”

The Lead Service Line Replacement program is part of the utility company’s $ 405 million capital plan, which includes a series of infrastructure improvements over the next six years. This includes upgrades and the water treatment plant, as well as the construction of a number of new water storage tanks to replace the Pennington Reservoir.

Funding the lead service line replacement will be difficult for the utility, which currently has only $ 15 million to do the work. That money comes in the form of a loan from the state infrastructure bank, said Walker, who added that the rest of the money will come from “state sources”.

In December, Trenton City Council rejected nearly $ 18 million requested by TWW for system improvements beyond replacing the senior service line. The Gusciora government is trying again to get this money. The same declined ordinances have been reintroduced and are due to have their first readings at the city council meeting on Thursday.

Reed Gusciora, Mayor of Trenton, at a Trenton Water Works press event marking the start of the water system pipeline replacement program in Trenton on January 9, 2020 Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for

It’s unclear whether Trenton will benefit from a new federal law passed by U.S. Senator Cory Booker, DN.J. – That effectively gives each state a $ 100 million infusion to improve their drinking water.

One thing is certain: TWW intends to hike rates this spring for the first time in more than 10 years. Currently, the average DHW customer pays $ 494 annually for their water. With the new proposal, that average annual bill would increase to $ 625.

That rate hike would be enough to fund the first two years of the $ 405 million capital plan, Walker said.

Senior service lines have made headlines across New Jersey, causing problems for water systems across Garden State. The spring water for DHW, which pumps directly from the Delaware River, does not contain lead. Instead, the pollutant enters the water when passed through lead supply lines, which are garden hose-sized pipes that connect individual properties to the water line.

There are 17,463 senior service lines in Trenton. 11,618 to Hamilton; 5,236 in Ewing and 2,383 in Lawrence, depending on the utility.

According to Walker, TWW has replaced 400 lines throughout the system since 2018. Replacing a single lead service line costs an average of about $ 7,000, Walker said. TWW customers have covered most of these costs through the replacement program but will still have to pay $ 1,000.

The water system is behind schedule for pipeline replacement, according to deadlines set by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In 2018, TWW was fined $ 13,000 by the DEP for failing to meet deadlines for guideline work.

Gusciora, who pointed out that the delays occurred prior to his administration, and TWW’s chief engineer, David Smith, both believed that a major reason for the delays was because the utility first had to determine where the main utility lines were.

Lead line replacement program in Trenton

Trenton Water Works employees are digging up pipelines following a press event marking the start of the Trenton water system pipeline replacement program on January 9, 2020 Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for

Newark’s water division, which serves more than 294,000 customers, is currently working to replace 18,720 lead service lines in less than three years. Since work began in March, Newark has replaced 4,638 lines, according to city spokeswoman Crystal Rosa. Newark expects all leading service lines to be replaced in 24 to 30 months.

Another major lead service line replacement program is underway in North Jersey, with private utility SUEZ working to replace lead service lines in its Hackensack system that serves 57 communities in Bergen and Hudson counties. According to SUEZ spokeswoman Debra Vial, the utility company was able to replace 2,517 leading service lines in the system in 2019.

Vial added that there are still 5,868 lead service lines and around 1,700 lead goosenecks in the SUEZ Hackensack system – very short pieces of pipe connecting the service line to the main line – and of 205,000 connections that remain. The utility is trying to determine if an additional 17,000 goosenecks are made of lead, she said.

According to state records, there were at least 160,000 conduits in water systems across New Jersey as of August. That number is expected to increase as water systems report their inventory to leading service lines to the state.

Governor Phil Murphy promised in October that every leading service line in New Jersey would be replaced within 10 years. According to the American Water Works Association, reaching that goal could cost $ 2.3 billion.

Like other water systems, TWW takes steps in its treatment process to reduce the corrosiveness of its water, which prevents the lead from leaking out of the pipes in the first place. The utility started a new anti-corrosion treatment in December – using zinc orthophosphate.

The new treatment is expected to take about eight months to take full effect.

TWW had previously adjusted the pH value of the water for corrosion protection. The utility had achieved mixed results with this technique in recent years, as evidenced by increased lead levels in the water in three of the four six-month monitoring periods in 2017 and 2018.

The ingestion of lead can have lasting effects on human health, especially in children. No lead content is considered safe, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a standard of 15 parts per billion drinking water.

TWW has not exceeded this federal standard for lead since the end of 2018.

TWW customers with questions about the utility’s Lead Service Line program are encouraged to call the program hotline at 609-989-3600.

MORE: Check out our comic that shows how lead got into drinking water across New Jersey

Read more about’s coverage of New Jersey water issues here.

Michael Sol Warren can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find on Facebook.

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