Earlier this month, officials of New Jersey’s capital city announced a five-year, $150 million replacement plan for all 37,000 lead water pipes throughout the city. The announcement comes on the heels of another infrastructure replacement plan, this one from Newark, where 18,000 lead water lines would be replaced over the next 2 ½ years.
Trenton’s water utility serves over 200,000 customers within the city limits and the surrounding communities. Due to the sheer volume of lead infrastructure needing replacement, pipes will be replaced in phases as the city and Trenton Water Works continues to gather the necessary funds for this effort. According to the Water Work’ Chief Engineer, David Smith, the funds are coming from the state infrastructure bank as well as a federal program. “Our intention is to make up for some lost time. We’re going to hit this aggressively,” Smith said.
In the summer of 2019, infrastructure replacement took on a new sense of urgency in the state of New Jersey when tests revealed that lead was present in some of Newark’s drinking water. Those results prompted an agreement for a $120 million bond to expedite lead pipe removal across the state from 10 years down to almost 3 years.
Trenton residents must register on the utility’s website and pay $1,000 in order to have their direct lines replaced which, according to Mayor Reed Gusciora, is a significant savings as replacements typically cost about $2,000-$5,000 per line. The hope is that in the future, the replacements will be mandatory and at no cost to residents.
Another issue posing a threat to the replacement plan is the incomplete picture of where lead pipes are located throughout the city and surrounding communities. Even after requesting the state’s 600+ water utilities to submit infrastructure inventories last year, only 160,000 lead pipes have been accounted for. While Trenton has an inventory of all the lead pipes it’s responsible for, homeowners and businesses own the line that runs from the street to their residence or place of work.
Lead pipe replacement has become a popular topic for municipalities in recent years with the most recognizable being the situation in Flint, Michigan in 2014 when lead levels spiked after the city switched its water source. Since then, the state of Michigan announced a plan to replace all 500,000 lead pipes in the state. With the plan calling for the replacement of all 37,000 lead pipes spanning the entire city over just 2 ½ years, Trenton officials have a long road ahead but will not be alone.
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