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Spotlight on NJ Water Supply for the 21st Century

BPU President Solomon Says Fracking Poses No Risk to NJ Water Supply

Outgoing Christie BPU President Lee Solomon gets a laugh about bottled water at a water utility conference

Outgoing Christie BPU President Lee Solomon gets a laugh about bottled water at a water utility conference

[Important updates below]

NJ Spotlight held another event in their policy roundtable series at Rider University today titled: New Jersey’s Water Supply in the 21st Century (see this for agenda and panelists).

The event was moderated by Tom Johnson, veteran energy and environment reporter.

I won’t even try to rehash everything that was said, but instead simply touch on the highlights and lay out my major impressions (that’s why this site is called Wolfenotes! Interested readers can find followup info by hitting the links).

The panel was comprised of outgoing Christie BPU President Lee Solomon and 4 water industry representatives. There was a lack of countervailing expertise and balance in terms of academic representatives, public policy experts, and environmental advocates.

I was surprised that even DEP was not represented (although DEP did have at least 3 senior middle managers in the audience).[Correction: these were DEP senior professionals, not middle managers].

Although Tom Johnson asked some good questions, the panelists tilted the discussion towards the industry perspective and narrowed the focus to private sector economic and financing issues.

However, audience members were given ample opportunity to ask questions, which generated the best discussion of the day.

I asked 4 questions (which got addressed in some way) as follows:

1) What is the water industry’s take on the long delay in DEP update of the Statewide Water Supply Master Plan? What are key industry issues in that plan?

2) How are competing water uses, i.e. for ecological health, recreation, and fishing purposes, protected in water supply planning and management and DEP water allocation permitting?

3) What are the public health risks and economic concerns in upgrading treatment systems to remove over 500 currently unregulated contaminants USGS and DEP have detected in NJ water supplies?

4) What are the implications of global warming for NJ water supply?

(I forgot to ask about the collapse of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute, which has been quietly killed by DEP Commissioner Martin).

Outgoing BPU President Solomon – who was outed as the Christie Cabinet member who denied the reality of global warming – made the most newsworthy and provocative claims.

He began by predicting that although we spend a lot of time and attention on energy issues, “water will be the crisis issue of the 21st century“.

Solomon almost seemed to welcome the controversy and to use the panel as an opportunity to take a few parting shots, particularly at environmentalists who he claimed used misleading “rhetorical, unsubstantiated allegations” against fracking. He stressed that we must not let that rhetoric determine what we do.

During the Q&A session, Solomon was asked by Tom Johnson whether we needed stronger regulations and then “what threat fracking posed to NJ water supply”.

Solomon replied “none” (mimicking Christie’s “frack off”)

Here is what the DRBC impact assessment identifies as impacts and risks of fracking:

Lifting the current DRBC moratorium would open the door to over 18,000 wells in NY and Pennsylvania, according to DRBC. Those wells would use over 100 BILLION gallons of water; generate more than 25 BILLION gallons of toxic hazardous wastewater with unsafe levels of radioactive contaminants; and destroy over 150,000 aces of forests and farms, more than all the land protected by the NJ Highlands Act.

In response to a subsequent question, where Tom asked panelists if they’d like to challenge Solomon’s remarks on fracking, Solomon tried to walk that comment back by claiming that there was “no evidence” that horizontal fracking had ever caused methane gas to migrate to a water supply well.

Solomon said that because horizontal fracking occurs more than a mile below the aquifer that it was geologically “impossible“. He claimed that there has “never been a case of gas migration into a water supply”.

(this is the gas industry spin and it totally misrepresents the totality of the risks and impacts of fracking. The evidence is too abundant to lay out here).

Solomon then went on a rant against environmental activists who he said had used movies and rhetoric to scare and mislead the public.

By comparison, fellow panelist Karen Alexander, President of the NJ Utilities Assc., didn’t attempt to deny the risks of fracking. Instead, she admitted that there were impacts and risks, but that they were due to “bad players” and small companies. (funny, Karen didn’t mention the fact that the risks from well casing of fracking wells are the same as the casing cement job and lax pro-industry regulatory oversight that caused BP Gulf oil blowout. )

wallAn audience member posed a question to the panel about what the profit rate was for the water companies. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Solomon jumped in and proceeded to spend 15 minutes defending Wall Street investor interests. He explained why Wall Street investors needed to receive at least a 10% guaranteed return on investment (comparing that to the fact that average people earn a paltry 1% or less on bank deposits).

Never was it made so obvious that Wall Street investors hold NJ water consumers hostage to their profits. Thanks Lee, you did a heckofajob!

Solomon arrogantly chuckled that he was glad he didn’t have to face the voters, as he even mocked democracy by claiming that voter referendum was a threat to privatization of water systems. He used the recent Trenton experience, where voter referendum struck down a proposed privatization scheme as his example.

Solomon exhibited perfect Christie style: defend Wall Street investors, promote privatization, mock democracy, attack environmental advocates, and defend and echo the spin of the gas industry.

The majority of the discussion focused on the water industry issues agenda, and the need for government to:

1) educate the public about water issues and the real value of water;

2) increase investment is water system infrastructure

3) increase ratepayer water use charges (average household rate is $42 -$48/quarter – rate cases filed that seek a 25% increase)

4) provide regulatory incentives for investment and privatization (e.g. allow appraisal value to be automatically passed on into rate base rate of return; make it easier to consolidate and privatize public systems, et al)

5) be sensitive to the costs of upgraded treatment systems to meet costly new EPA requirements (EPA unregulated contaminant monitoring rule and new trihalomethane requirements came in for specific criticism)

6) increase beneficial refuse of wastewater

7) deflect and better manage (ill informed) public perception about the risks of contaminants –

The Dupont PFOA south jersey litigation was used as an example where the water company took precautionary preventive actions based on perception of PFOA, even though DEP and EPA did not require it.

But no one talked about any of this: (see: Dupont – Too Big to Jail)

In response to those recommendations by DEP scientists:

8. reduce the use of road salt

All the panelists downplayed  the existence of

  • water supply deficits and constraints to growth;
  • the public health risks of water pollution;
  • the ecological, river/stream flow, and other competing non-human needs;
  • the need for planning and/or more regulation;
  • the role of water conservation; and
  • controversial issues surrounding privatization of public water systems.

Wednesday, NJ Clean Water Council holds its annual public hearing at 9 am in the DEP building – see link for agenda and details. They are recycling last year’s topic!

[Update 1: water industry panelists repeatedly stated that bottled water was “unregulated” (curious, the corporations who should be looking out for clean drinking water had no problem with the fact that fracking is exempt from federal environmental laws, like the Safe Drinking Water Act!).

But it is NOT true that bottled water is unregulated in NJ).

Pursuant to (N.J.S.A. 58:12A-1)., according to the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services:

Specific standards have been developed for impurities that have been detected in ground and surface water supplies. Bottled water sources must meet the same water safety standards that have been developed under the State’s Safe Drinking Water Act and the regulations establishing New Jersey Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for public drinking water supplies. …

In addition to the potential for chemical contamination, source water supplies can also be subject to microbiological contamination. Spring water supplies can be vulnerable to the infiltration of surface water and pathogenic microorganisms including protozoa, such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum. These pathogens may enter the ground water strata from which a bottler draws their supply. While pathogenic bacteria are readily eliminated through disinfection, standard disinfection techniques employed by water bottlers such as ozonation and ultra-violet light (UV) treatment do not eliminate protozoan cysts. In order to address this potential problem, the DHSS established rules that require water bottlers to evaluate their source of supply for direct surface water influences. Microscopic particulate analysis or other hydrologic evaluations are conducted and the bottlers must certify that their water is not under the direct influence of surface water or employ additional treatment, which includes submicron filtration to eliminate the potential for the presence of protozoa.

Pants of fire!

The reason the water industry LIES about this is because it is a State level regulation –

They have convinced the Christie Administration to forego state standards at DEP, so they don’t want to talk about State regulations at all – even those that BENEFIT their industry!

[Update 2: Water industry panelists strongly opposed the idea of reducing reservoir storage in advance of a storm to reduce flooding. Solomon agreed with them, and threatened that if pending legislation were passed (see A4287 and A4320), then State regulators would impose (unspecified) new costly infrastructure requirements in response.

I was aware of that issue in the Delaware, where a United Water reservoir release may have caused flooding damage, but now see that it is an issue in north jersey as well, see today’s Bergen Record story: Tough questions on flooding in New Milford for United Water oficials

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  1. November 28th, 2011 at 22:33 | #1

    Wish I had known you were there. I would have introduced myself. My take on the panel discussion is at http://goo.gl/yAhEA

  2. November 29th, 2011 at 09:23 | #2

    @Deciminyan

    nice job on your post

    For a different focus, go to Trenton on Wednesday 9 am – the Clean Water Council holds its annual public hearing. The focus is infrastructure.

    DEP Commissioner Martin is speaking (he’s a privatization and finance guy), bet enviro’s should show up.

  3. November 29th, 2011 at 09:36 | #3

    @Bill Wolfe

    Hey Deci – one more thing – Ironically, Bluejersey readers were denied the broader environmental perspective you correctly note as a defect at this policy roundtable when Rosi banned me.

    I used to cross post as Winston Smith – but I guess I was a little to critical of Dems for that site.

    Regardless, it was a move that deprived the site’s readers of solid info and analysis and illustrates everything that’s wrong with partisan electoral focused work.

  4. November 29th, 2011 at 12:06 | #4

    Thanks for the complement. I would go to the Clean Water Council, but I had previously arranged to interview Jeff Tittel tomorrow morning for BJ. Look for the interview there tomorrow evening.

  5. November 29th, 2011 at 12:07 | #5

    @Deciminyan

    Tittel gets plenty of exposure in main stream media – alternate media should BROADEN not echo MSM.

  1. November 30th, 2011 at 17:06 | #1
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  3. May 14th, 2015 at 18:24 | #3
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