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AEA Response Testimony at Clean Water Council Public Hearing: Taking Stormwater Management to the Next Level

Posted on: October 31st, 2017 by eric

The below piece is a written follow-up to oral testimony given at an Oct. 19, 2017 public hearing at the Clean Water Council, c/o the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Trenton. This written testimony was provided Oct. 31. The Clean Water Council holds an annual hearing and this year the topic was stormwater management. The AEA comments deal with explaining the limited role authorities currently have and the conditions under which authorities may have a role in statewide efforts to address non-point source pollution. 

AEA Response Testimony at Clean Water Council Public Hearing:

Taking Stormwater Management to the Next Level

 

The Association of Environmental Authorities is a trade association that represents utilities authorities and municipal utilities owned by the public, along with private-sector businesses that support them. These members provide clean water and solid waste services to about eight million New Jerseyans. We are grateful for this opportunity to offer comments to the NJ Clean Water Council.

After the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, local governments in New Jersey partnered to create county and regional authorities to address water and wastewater service needs. Individual municipalities created municipal utilities authorities to serve their own water and wastewater needs and in some cases those of neighbors as well. Through authorities and other service delivery models, New Jersey has achieved significant reductions in point-source pollution. Beach closings are now rare. Aquatic life has re-emerged. With new analytical methods for testing water that can detect ever-smaller concentrations of metals and toxic chemicals, there is every reason to hope for continued improvement in outcomes for point-source pollution reduction. Now, it is time for non-point source pollution to be addressed with the same systematic efforts.

 

AEA members have an interest in the dialogue about non-point source pollution reduction. Addressing stormwater pollution can help wastewater and drinking water service providers save money for their ratepayers in reduced treatment costs. Influxes of stormwater can damage the wastewater treatment process and threaten the ability of treatment plants to comply with discharge permits.

It makes sense to include existing drinking water and wastewater agencies in statewide efforts to address non-point source pollution. They already know about how to treat “raw” water to deliver safe “finished” drinking water and how to treat wastewater so that it can be safely discharged into rivers and streams. Authorities are experienced water infrastructure managers, handling operations and maintenances and engaging in long-term capital and financial planning (asset management).[1] However, authorities are not statutorily responsible for stormwater.  Engaging them as partners would require amending the statutes that govern authorities. The law would have to be amended to unequivocally permit authorities to work with MS-4 permittees on stormwater. It would have to permit a new funding mechanism as well— authorities cannot be asked to stretch existing drinking water and/or wastewater funding for stormwater. They need existing funding to maintain water quality and infrastructure.

In the event legislation is created to permit stormwater utilities, water/wastewater authorities should be among those permitted to participate and collect user fees. Legislation should address conditions under which a stormwater facility can be turned over to the stormwater utility and how access for on-going maintenance would be handled. Collaboration and efficient use of existing resources and service delivery systems should be encouraged*[2]. At the same time, authorities must be able to determine the impact participation might have on existing water/wastewater responsibilities and whether it would benefit existing customers. The best outcomes will be achieved if regulations take into account changing conditions, and if they are allow on site-specific investigation, proper sampling, appropriate testing, and an integrated approach to water quality management.

New Jersey can’t address stormwater or any of its environmental challenges effectively without the political will to do so. Citizens, business leaders and local officials must understand the consequences of ignoring the problems of non-point source pollution and the great benefits of addressing them. Many people and organizations, including the Clean Water Council, are working to increase the understanding and awareness that can lead to action. CSO owners like Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and North Hudson Sewerage Authority are engaging with their communities. Authorities such as Landis Sewerage Authorities, Camden County MUA, Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Mount Laurel Township MUA, and Brick Township MUA reach beyond the gates of their treatment plants to connect with and educate the public. Many authorities work informally with public works departments on stormwater basin cleaning or similar activities.

AEA commends the Clean Water Council for choosing this topic for its public hearing and urges the Council to continue its important work with the Department of Environmental Protection and other stakeholders on non-point source pollution.

 

Respectfully submitted by Peggy Gallos

AEA Executive Director

 

Clean Water Council appointed Peggy in 2015 to a role as a technical advisor.  Jim Cosgrove chairs the CWC. His firm, Kleinfelder, has been a long-time member of AEA and Jim is an active member of the AEA NJPDES Committee. For more information about the CWC, click here. http://www.nj.gov/dep/cleanwatercouncil/

 

[1] Jackson Township MUA is an example of an authority that has managed its capital costs and debts in a balanced manner that has kept rates stable, with a minimum of increases.

[2] Lakewood Township MUA and Hamilton Township MUA (Atlantic County) are authorities that are useful examples of authority/municipal cooperation and collaboration.

AEA Making Strides in Embracing Social Media

Posted on: October 12th, 2017 by eric

One of the AEA’s core missions has always been to assist our membership in keeping up with current trends, methodologies, and technologies, all in order to ensure they stay abreast of our changing world. We recognize that we can’t do that without ensuring our own house is in order, which is why we are making strong strides in the digital realm, especially when it comes to social media.

social media

Our members use and interact with social media on a daily basis. So do the ratepayers they serve, the other agencies and authorities they deal with, and the government agencies they must contend with. Our goal is to stand alongside them as we adjust to the changing media landscape. With that in mind, the AEA is expanding its social media presence in a way we believe will benefit both our members and the public at large.

Your portal to seeing how we are expanding our digital efforts begins at our web page, aeanj.org. Newly redesigned and in the midst of changes still to come, you’ll not only have access to resources our membership finds extremely useful – both the Career Center and Document Library have proven to be invaluable resources – you’ll also find links to our social media channels.

First and foremost among those social media outlets is Facebook. You’ll find us at facebook.com/AEANJcleanwater. Facebook is a truly social platform, which is why your Public Information Officer or PR staff may have noticed us connecting our page to your agency or authority’s page. In keeping with the nature of the platform, our goals on Facebook are multi-faceted. On the simplest level, we’ll be more frequently delivering information via the platform, both to our membership (such as information on our upcoming Annual Conference) and to the general public (such as tips on how to use water efficiently or updates on laws that impact their lives).

Yet Facebook is not merely for broadcasting information. Expect to see us more frequently sharing posts and information from our members. Highlighting the amazing work they do is part of our mission, after all. We’ll also be using the platform as a means to connect our members to one another; to offer you another avenue by which to contact us; and to continue to advocate on your behalf. We have other exciting plans in the works, too, which we will announce in early 2018.

social media

Over at twitter.com/aeanjcleanwater, you’ll find us sharing updates from our members and other organizations we respect; sharing news we think might be relevant to you and the public; and perhaps occasionally enjoying the lighter side of social media. We make an effort to follow all our member organizations, so if we missed you, follow us or send us a DM so we can ensure we add you to our follow list.

These venues are only the start. In the months ahead we plan to expand the way we reach members and the public in a number of ways. The world we live in is now a multimedia world. There is no ignoring that. In order to best serve you, and in turn help you better serve your ratepayers, we have to keep pace with those changes in how we interact with one another. We aim to do exactly that.

We hope you’ll be along for the ride.

One Water Award to honor infrastructure projects

Posted on: July 15th, 2017 by eric

One Water Award to honor infrastructure projects. Includes category for public agencies.

More info —  Apply

Video: Members Explain Why They BelongWe asked  members what they value about AEA.

Congratulations to the Recipients of 2017 Wave Awards

Posted on: April 15th, 2017 by eric

Recipients of 2017 Wave Awards

Best Management Practices

Atlantic County UA
Hamilton Township MUA
Passaic Valley SC

Energy Savers
Toms River MUA

Public Education
Atlantic County UA
Cape May County MUA
Passaic Valley SC

Forward Thinking
Cape May County MUA
Somerset Raritan Valley SA
Toms River MUA

Public Utility Agencies, Local Press, and Civic Engagement

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by Peggy Gallos

The news business in New Jersey has changed. In many instances, local news has migrated to online platforms: NJ Arts, NJ Spotlight, or Politico NJ. TapInto.net operates about 60 NJ franchise sites. In my own town, the owner of a local B&B faithfully updates a “good news” Facebook page. People get news from Twitter and other platforms. Meanwhile, broadsheets and tabloids are declining. Staff of newspapers has been cut and cut. According to the NJ Press Association website, there are 16 dailies, 12 group weeklies, and 15 independent weeklies, far fewer than there used to be. Throughout this transformation, local news has suffered.

That’s not only bad for the journalists, press workers, and advertising staff who work in local news. It is unfortunate for local government, too. Without a doubt my view is influenced by that fact that I once worked in local news. But in my current role as someone who speaks on behalf of local clean water and solid waste agencies, I am more convinced than ever that the decline in the availability of local news is not good for local government. I saying this knowing full well that news coverage is a mixed bag. AEA member organizations have been unfavorably or inaccurately covered by local news media. Stories about misdeeds in authorities are certainly fair game, but an unfortunate side effect of them is that they shape perception and reflect badly on the many, many local elected and appointed officials and employees who are honest, professional and dedicated.

News coverage may not always be comfortable, but it is useful–even vital — for local water/solid waste agencies. Local media connects local agencies to local people who depend on their services. It provides platforms for telling about good work. A recent Pew Research Center study found that civically engaged people are more likely to value and use local news sources. Civically engaged people are the ones most likely to take Girl Scouts on a tour of a plant or ask questions about the mayor’s plan to sell a system to a corporation.

Civic engagement coupled with local news coverage changed and deepened the dialogue when Evesham Township was considering dissolving its authority. Dennis Palmer, executive director of Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA) in Vineland, has made it a years-long practice to cooperate with local reporters and make himself and his staff available to them. Local media has enabled Palmer to show the commit to efficiency and innovation of the commissioners who oversee the authority. He heightens the community’s awareness of its water and sewer system through local poster contests for children that are covered in the local paper. When the mayor held secret discussions about dissolving the authority, Palmer held press conferences and issued news releases to tell the LSA perspective and to clarify inaccuracies. The local press was instrumental in his effort to build consensus. He put forward fiscally sound proposals that addressed the city’s needs without fixing an asset that wasn’t broken to begin with.

So my advice to AEA member authorities or any local government entity is to keep in touch with the civically engaged people in your community by engaging with local news media. Subscribe to newspapers. Seek out local news sources online. Issue news releases. Engage social media about important civic questions such as clean water. Encourage coverage. Take journalists on tours of facilities. Discuss local services and needs with them.

The press is taking some hard hits lately. That’s too bad. A free press promotes transparency and public dialogue. It’s one of the fundamentals of democracy–whether that democracy is being lived out in Evesham, Vineland, Trenton or Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

Public Utility Agencies, Local Press and Civic Engagement

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by Peggy Gallos

The news business in New Jersey has changed. In many instances, local news has migrated to online platforms: NJ Arts, NJ Spotlight, or Politico NJ. TapInto.net operates about 60 NJ franchise sites. In my own town, the owner of a local B&B faithfully updates a “good news” Facebook page. People get news from Twitter and other platforms. Meanwhile, broadsheets and tabloids are declining. Staff of newspapers has been cut and cut. According to the NJ Press Association website, there are 16 dailies, 12 group weeklies, and 15 independent weeklies, far fewer than there used to be. Throughout this transformation, local news has suffered.

That’s not only bad for the journalists, press workers, and advertising staff who work in local news. It is unfortunate for local government, too. Without a doubt my view is influenced by that fact that I once worked in local news. But in my current role as someone who speaks on behalf of local clean water and solid waste agencies, I am more convinced than ever that the decline in the availability of local news is not good for local government. I say this knowing full well that news coverage is a mixed bag. AEA member organizations have been unfavorably or inaccurately covered by local news media. Stories about misdeeds in authorities are certainly fair game, but an unfortunate side effect of them is that they shape perception and reflect badly on the many, many local elected and appointed officials and employees who are honest, professional and dedicated.

News coverage may not always be comfortable, but it is useful–even vital — for local water/solid waste agencies. Local media connects local agencies to local people who depend on their services. It provides platforms for telling about good work. A recent Pew Research Center study found that civically engaged people are more likely to value and use local news sources. Civically engaged people are the ones most likely to take Girl Scouts on a tour of a plant or ask questions about the mayor’s plan to sell a system to a corporation.

Civic engagement coupled with local news coverage changed and deepened the dialogue when Evesham Township was considering dissolving its authority. Dennis Palmer, executive director of Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA) in Vineland, has made it a years-long practice to cooperate with local reporters and make himself and his staff available to them. Local media has enabled Palmer to show the commitment to efficiency and innovation of the commissioners who oversee the authority. He heightens the community’s awareness of its water and sewer system through local poster contests for children that are covered in the local paper. When the mayor held secret discussions about dissolving the authority, Palmer held press conferences and issued news releases to tell the LSA perspective and to clarify inaccuracies. The local press was instrumental in his effort to build consensus. He put forward fiscally sound proposals that addressed the city’s needs without fixing an asset that “ain’t broke” — the well-run, and efficient sewerage authority.

So my advice to AEA member authorities or any local government entity is to keep in touch with the civically engaged people in your community by engaging with local news media. Subscribe to newspapers. Seek out local news sources online. Issue news releases. Engage social media about important civic questions such as clean water. Encourage coverage. Take journalists on tours of facilities. Discuss local services and needs with them.

The press is taking some hard hits lately. That’s too bad. A free press promotes transparency and public dialogue. It’s one of the fundamentals of democracy–whether that democracy is being lived out in Evesham, Vineland, Trenton or Washington, D.C.