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Clean Water Council Considering Privatization

Who Owns Your Tap and Toilet Water? Will You have Clean and Plentiful Water Tomorrow?

The Clean Water Council will hold it annual public hearing on Tuesday October 12. This year’s hearing is sure to provoke controversy.

Expanded privatization of NJ’s drinking water systems, wastewater treatment (sewers), and stormwater management infrastructure is now on the table.

Do you think that more corporate profits and control over your public water and sewer systems is the way to go? Governor Christie and DEP Commisisoner Bob Martin sure seem to.

In addition to a white paper on “infrastructure asset management” – surprise, surprise! -prominent on the Council’s issues agenda to be considered is:

What role might privatization or public-private contracts perform to improve water infrastructure asset management?

As Gomer Pile, USMC,  used to say: SHAZAAAM!

Current DEP Commissioner Bob Martin made a career out of privatizing public water supply systems.

Given Governor Christie’s ideological support for privatization – including Christie’s Privatization Task Force created under Exectutive Order # 17 – word has it that Martin’s privatization experience was his main “qualification” for the DEP job.

Governor Christie also issued Executive Order #15 which sought to eliminate certain public authorities.

In a September 15 post, we warned that, among other things, in response to Christie’s Executive Order 15, Commissioner Martin had submitted recommendations to the Governor to consolidate the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission with the NJ Water Supply Authority, as well as consolidate the Clean Water Council and Water Supply Advisory Council.

Shockingly, Martin’s consolidation recommendations were not supported by any facts or analysis.

Commissioner Martin’s consolidation recommendations are sure to prove controversial. Setting up a showdown, the Council’s White Paper recommendations to Commissioner Martin directly contradict Martin’s own consolidation recommendations to the Governor:

Importantly, a “one size fits all” approach to infrastructure management and accounting is inappropriate due to the wide variety of ownership types and sizes of systems. Asset management techniques must be suited to each infrastructure type, management structure, whether the system is a bulk or retail service, system size, infrastructure age, etc. While there are emerging general approaches5 that have broad applicability, the specifics of asset management will vary among and even within systems.

As water and sewer line breaks, boil water emergencies, and drought warnings become almost a daily occurence, the Council’s hearing comes at a critical juncture.

NJ’s safe drinking and clean water infrastructure deficits are approaching crisis conditions. Back in 2005, I testified to the Council about infrastructure deficits:

Need for Public Investment – Financing environmental infrastructure deficits

The first priority of the Clean Water Council should be a strong recommendation to the next Administration to get the environmental infrastructure deficit issue on the political and policy radar screens. The Council should focus on the fact that environmental nfrastructure deficits are a serious and long ignored problem that threaten NJ’s economic future, quality of life, public health, and ecological integrity. The Council needs to emphasize that water resource and environmental infrastructure expenditures are investments. The Council should recommend the absolute need to establish creative new funding sources to finance this critical deficit.

More recently, on September 19, we wrote about NJ $7.9 billion drinking water infrastructure deficit.

But that drinking water infrastructure deficit is dwarfed by overall clean water and stormwater management needs, which exceed $ 20 billion.

Importantly, those costs do not include necessary investments in new treatment technologies to respond to emergent chemical threats (see recent DEP petition for rulemaking) or to adapt to global warming (see “Adapt or Die“).

Those “hard infrastructure” cost assessments also don’t include the most cost effective and environmentally sustainable approach: preservation of “Natural capital” and green infrastructure. 

Clearly, Governor Christie’s head in the sand “anti-tax” and privatization approach will not solve these huge structural problems. Nor will Martin’s poorly thought out consolidation.

A massive environmental infrastructure investment package is required to protect NJ’s ecological, public health, and economic/jobs future.

We urge you to register to testify and turn out for the Council’s October 12 hearing . We will keep you posted on the outcome.

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