RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces Clean Water Action Plan to Protect Families From Lead Water, Forever Chemicals — Clawed Back $2.8M for Ridgewood Water, Helped Secure $1B for New Jersey’s Water Infrastructure 

Jun 02, 2022
Press

Fighting for New Investments for Mahwah, Fair Lawn, & Park Ridge Water Treatment

Clean Water Transparency in Schools, Removing Lead Service Lines

Above: Gottheimer at Ridgewood Water to announce his Clean Water Action Plan.

RIDGEWOOD, NJ — Today, June 2, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined with local leaders and water providers to announce a Clean Water Action Plan, focused on helping towns across the Fifth District claw back federal resources to remove dangerous lead and forever chemicals from our children and families’ drinking water, and to meet all state and federal water standards. The plan builds on the progress Gottheimer has led over recent years for greater transparency and investment to address dangerous lead water in North Jersey schools.

According to public reporting New Jersey has 350,000 lead service lines, which are lead pipes that connect a water main from the curb to premises like a home or school. According to 2019 data, approximately 480 school buildings across a third of New Jersey’s school districts recorded lead levels that exceeded 15 parts per billion. The EPA estimates that at least 20% of human lead exposure is from drinking water. PFAS, known as forever chemicals, in drinking water has been an issue for towns across the Fifth District and has been linked to numerous adverse health effects, including cancers and impaired child development.

Gottheimer’s new Clean Water Action Plan includes the following:

  1. Clawing Back Federal Dollars to North Jersey for Clean Water Projects: Gottheimer successfully clawed back a $2.8 million federal investment for Ridgewood Water to improve their water treatment facility and address elevated levels of lead and forever chemicals in the water supply. Ridgewood Water serves more than 62,000 residents across Ridgewood, Wyckoff, Midland Park, and Glen Rock. Gottheimer is working to secure new federal investment for water treatment projects in Mahwah, Fair Lawn, and Park Ridge. Gottheimer also helped secure $1 billion for Jersey’s critical water infrastructure through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which he helped craft and pass. These investments will help lower the local tax burden on our residents. 
  1. Ensuring Transparency in Schools: Working with parents, state legislators, and the Governor, from 2017 to 2019, Gottheimer called to create a centralized, easy-to-access school lead water reporting database for the State of New Jersey. In 2019, the database website was unveiled, allowing for parents and communities to access up-to-date information on dangerous lead water in their children’s schools. Furthermore, a key piece of Gottheimer’s bipartisan Lead-Free Schools Act was enacted into law via the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, creating a targeted pilot program using existing resources to improve drinking water infrastructure in schools nationwide with lead in their water.
  1. Replacing Lead Service Lines: Last year, a North Jersey private water provider, Suez Water, announced that 7,800 lead lines had been removed and that lead levels across the system were at historic lows. Suez committed to having no lead in their system in 10 years. Today, Gottheimer called on every single provider, private and public, to remove lead from all service lines going to houses. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which he helped shape and pass, provides investment to water utilities and municipal water systems to begin removing lead service lines.

“For years now, it’s my top priority to get clean drinking water for our children and families and I’ve been fighting in Congress to claw more tax dollars back to Jersey. A critical $2.8 million federal investment has now been signed into law for Ridgewood Water to address lead in the water, PFAS, and other forever chemicals impacting more than 62,000 residents across Ridgewood, Wyckoff, Midland Park, and Glen Rock,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “With bipartisan legislation I just helped pass and get signed into law, and the $1 billion for water infrastructure I helped secure for Jersey through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we’re helping get lead and forever chemicals out of our drinking water. I’m also working with other towns across the Fifth District, including Park Ridge, Mahwah, and Fair Lawn, to replicate this success and claw back even more of our own tax dollars to help improve their water treatment facilities. The more of our federal tax dollars that we get back to Northern New Jersey, the less our towns have to charge in local taxes — and I’m all about lowering taxes.”

“It’s reassuring that Congressman Gottheimer is watching out for our community,” said Mahwah Mayor Jim Wysocki. “Thank you everyone for your continued support with this vital project!” 

“Park Ridge and Woodcliff Lake appreciates our Congressman’s efforts in bringing federal funds back to the Fifth District to protect our water supply. There is nothing more important than clean water for our children and we need federal support in order to achieve this goal. Thank you, Congressman Gottheimer,” said Park Ridge Mayor Keith Misciagna.

“Clean water is essential for everyone. Congressman Gottheimer has been instrumental in advancing the eradication of PFAS contamination through much needed federal funding for our water treatment facilities. Without his help New Jerseyans would shoulder the burden of costly PFAS treatment. Ridgewood Water has been at the forefront of clean water initiatives and, as such, we are grateful for Congressman Gottheimer’s continued support,” said Village of Ridgewood Mayor Susan Knudsen. 

“Ridgewood Water has encumbered significant costs to update its infrastructure, vital treatment technologies, which will be ongoing. As a customer, I appreciate the updated technology to protect our drinking water. However, the rate payers will ultimately be saddled with the financing. By securing this new federal investment, the Congressman will help not only the Glen Rock rate payers, but our neighbors in Wyckoff, Midland Park, and Ridgewood too,” said Glen Rock Mayor Kristine Moriecko.

“Ensuring drinking water in Fair Lawn is safe and free of forever chemicals is and will always be my top priority. Keeping residents safe is the most fundamental job of any elected official. I have dedicated myself to doing as much research as possible and exploring all options to find a long term solution. We are lucky to have partners like Congressman Gottheimer in Washington who are fighting alongside us,” said Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor Cristina Cutrone.

Gottheimer was joined by Ridgewood Mayor Susan Knudsen, Park Ridge Mayor Keith Misciagna, Mahwah Mayor Jim Wysocki, Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan, Fair Lawn Councilwoman Gail Rottenstritch, Midland Park Council President Nancy Peet, Ridgewood Water Director Rich Calbi, and the Park Ridge Administration and Water Utility.

Video of today’s announcement can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer at Ridgewood Water to announce his Clean Water Action Plan.

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Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

I’m here today with local leaders and our local water providers to announce my Clean Water Action Plan, focused on helping towns across the Fifth District claw back federal resources to remove dangerous lead and forever chemicals from our children and families’ drinking water, and meet all state and federal standards. It builds on the great progress we’ve already made over the last years for greater transparency and investment to address our school’s water infrastructure.

For years now, after hearing from so many parents, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the threat of contaminated drinking water to the health and safety of our families, in our schools and in our homes — whether that’s elevated lead levels or forever chemicals like per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

I believe that every child — every family — deserves to drink water that’s free of lead and dangerous chemicals, and every parent deserves to know that their town’s water is safe to drink, whether that’s in their homes or in their schools.

Let’s be clear, our water challenges didn’t happen overnight and fixing them won’t either. But, our families deserve continued action now. Here’s why the progress we’ve already made to date is so important, and why, now, we’re continuing the fight for new resources across Northern New Jersey.

The science is clear and concerning. Lead exposure can stunt a child’s development, can cause learning disabilities and appetite loss, and can even lead to permanent damage to their vital organs and nervous systems. Children who are exposed to lead water often experience hearing loss, seizures, and irreversible harm to brain development.

According to the American Water Works Association, New Jersey has 350,000 lead service lines, which are lead pipes that connect a water main to premises like a home or school — from the curb to the home. Any pipe leading to a home or school built before 1988 could have lead pipes.

And, according to 2019 research, approximately 480 school buildings across a third of New Jersey’s school districts recorded lead levels that exceeded 15 parts per billion, which is unacceptable.

Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water. The EPA estimates that at least 20 percent of human lead exposure is from drinking water.

But it’s not just lead in our water that we need to worry about. PFAS in our water are forever chemicals from things like Teflon, food packaging, and stain repellents, which have been linked to numerous other adverse health effects, including cancers and impaired child development.

The State recently put into place new public water systems standards for monitoring dangerous chemicals in our water. 

We cannot afford to take these risks with our kids; the stakes are simply too high. And I talk to parents about this issue all of the time – especially when residents get one of those blue slips with their water bills, or read a story in the paper.

The first, and core part of my Clean Water Action Plan, focuses on resources and investment.  Today, I’m announcing that, by working closely with mayors and local councils, I’ve clawed back a $2.8 million federal investment for Ridgewood Water to improve their water treatment facility and address elevated levels of lead and forever chemicals in the water supply. For more than 40 years, Ridgewood Water has served Ridgewood, of course, plus Wyckoff, Midland Park, and Glen Rock.

Ridgewood has already spent millions installing treatment technologies, and this new federal investment will help Ridgewood Water fully build the necessary drinking water treatment facilities to address lead in the water, PFAS, and other forever chemicals impacting more than 62,000 residents.

Like Ridgewood, I’m also working with other towns across the Fifth District, including Park Ridge, Mahwah, and Fair Lawn, whose elected officials are here today, to replicate this success and claw back even more of our own tax dollars to help improve their water treatment facilities.

We’re doing this in two ways: First, as part of my responsibilities in Congress, I’ve officially submitted town water requests for Park Ridge, Mahwah, and Fair Lawn for funding through the federal budget as a Community Directed Project. 

Second, as part of the billion dollars I helped secure for Jersey, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, I’ve asked the Governor to allocate resources for these communities and others in my District as part of what the state will receive for critical water infrastructure. In fact, through the historic bipartisan legislation, which I helped craft and pass, the State of New Jersey will finally have the resources to make the investments we need to help replace lead pipes across the state and protect our children’s drinking water.

Here’s why it’s so important that we get that investment from the infrastructure bill back here: Ridgewood Water, for example, has been fighting back against polluters whose actions have contaminated our surface and groundwater with forever chemicals. In previous years, they found evidence of these forever chemicals in most of their 52 wells. As I said, they’ve already installed treatment technologies and they’ve spent several million dollars to help keep our residents safe. But, it’s very expensive — and they can’t just dump the cost on our families. It would be hundreds of dollars a year for every household.

So, as a publicly owned system, they need more help. And this is an issue for many of our towns in all of the counties I proudly represent.

Just a few months back, I visited Park Ridge Water supply. Currently, their Water Department has 18 to 20 wells, and three of those wells have been shut down from borderline amounts of PFAS. They need to make key infrastructure improvements to update and upgrade their water system to comply with NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) requirements, and to keep dangerous chemicals out of residents’ drinking water.

I’m also working with Fair Lawn to secure federal investment for a new and improved water treatment facility to serve the entire borough. This facility would bring water from all wells and send it to a centralized water treatment plant — removing up to 95 percent of PFAS and producing potable water.

Mahwah is also in need of a new filtration system to help provide clean water to nearly 25,000 North Jersey residents. Much like Park Ridge, one of Mahwah’s seven wells is out of compliance with the state PFAS requirement. This filtration system will remove these dangerous chemicals.

Working with these towns, I’ve submitted these three new Community Directed Project requests to receive federal investment to improve their water treatment systems. I’m hopeful that, just like we did for Ridgewood Water over this past year, we’ll be able to claw back federal dollars from Washington to ensure clean water for our families.

We know that every single investment request won’t be approved, but, as my dad always said, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  I’ll never stop fighting to claw back the federal dollars that our local projects — run by our town governments — truly need. As you know, that’s been one of my top priorities. The more of our federal tax dollars that we get back to Northern New Jersey, the less our towns have to charge in local taxes — and I’m all about lowering taxes.

The second part of my Clean Water Action Plan is all about transparency, especially about water in our schools. Working with parents, state legislators, and the Governor, going back from 2017 to 2019, I called to create a centralized, easy-to-access school lead water reporting database for the State of New Jersey. It got done. Now, parents and communities can finally have the right up-to-date information on dangerous lead water in their children’s schools.

But it’s not just about information about the problems in our schools. It’s also about fighting to get it fixed. A key piece of my bipartisan legislation, the Lead-Free Schools Act, was enacted into law via the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, creating a targeted pilot program using existing resources to improve drinking water infrastructure in schools nationwide that have lead in their water. Far too many schools, including in New Jersey, were built decades or even a century ago, with lead-coated pipes that run into the water fountains and school cafeterias.

Ridgewood High School, founded in 1892, opened the main building it uses today in 1919, nearly a hundred years ago. Ridgewood took solid, concrete steps to address their issues with all their pipes, but it raises a broader issue. When you have infrastructure that predates the phase-out of lead pipes in the 1920s or lead solder in the 1980s, there could be lead in the drinking water, whether that’s in our sinks at home, or the sinks or water fountains in the lunch rooms.

Our schools have been working year-in and year-out to replace the pipes and change the water fountains. But it’s expensive and they’ve needed extra help, including here in Bergen County. The resources we got in 2018 and through legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill are helping keep our kids and teachers safe.

The final part of our Clean Water Action Plan is about making sure that every last house in Northern New Jersey can feel good about the water going from the street to their home.

Last year, one of the private water providers, Suez Water, announced that they’d removed 7,800 lead lines, that’s from the street to the house, and lead levels across the system were at historic lows. They had 25 crews in the field at all times replacing lines, many of them going back decades when lead pipe coating was standard, and have committed to having no lead in their system in 10 years. I applaud Suez for surpassing state and federal guidelines. But we all know that there is more work to be done to prepare for the future. We need that same action from every single provider, private and public, to remove lead from all service lines going to houses. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill provides investment to water utilities and municipal water systems to do just that.

As I said, my Clean Water Action Plan builds on years of work to remove dangerous lead and forever chemicals from children and families’ drinking water.

With today’s announcement, we’re clawing back more investment — federal dollars that we’ve secured to come back to help us right here in Ridgewood, and, now, we’re also fighting for even more — for Park Ridge, Mahwah, and Fair Lawn.

The bottom line: It’s vital that we continue clawing more of our tax dollars back to Jersey, instead of it all going to the Moocher States, so we can help our local communities, our local water utilities, and our school systems identify and replace all dangerous pipes, fully treat and filter out forever chemicals from our water, and protect our families and children.

This is a bipartisan issue that can bring together everyone, so that we can solve a clear problem. 

These steps — as part of the Clean Water Action Plan — will help ensure that, here in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us, and our families and children will be safe and healthy.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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