HAMILTON, NJ -- New Jersey'Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced on Monday that a lawsuit has been filed against the City of Trenton and Trenton Water Works (TWW). The State is seeking to force TWW to take legally required actions to protect and strengthen the City’s water system, including actions necessary to reduce the risk of lead and pathogens in drinking water.
The publicly-owned water authority provides approximately 29 million gallons of drinking water daily to more than 200,000 residents in the City of Trenton, as well as in Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell, and Lawrence Townships.
“After years of mismanagement, and after the Trenton City Council recently failed to take necessary steps to address the serious shortcomings in the City’s water system, the State was left with no choice but to file this suit,” said Grewal.
“Our lawsuit demands that TWW meet its obligations to reduce the risk of lead exposure by replacing lead service lines, and to comply with a range of other environmental laws that go directly to the health of the public and especially of Trenton’s children," Grewal said. "New Jersey’s public water systems must be held to the highest standards and must live up to their environmental and public health obligations.”
For the past decade, DEP and Trenton have executed multiple Administrative Consent Orders (ACOs) in which agreements were made to address TWW failures to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Among other things, TWW agreed to replace thousands of lead service lines and cover a finished water reservoir, actions that are necessary for TWW to comply with state and federal law and effectively minimize public health risks.
The Attorney General's office contends that TWW has missed many critical deadlines and obligations to replace a significant portion of lead service lines. Further, the State agency contends that TWW has "failed to protect its open, 78-million-gallon reservoir of treated water from contamination and reduce the risk of pathogens in the water supply, and has failed to satisfy a series of other operations and maintenance obligations."
On May 7,Trenton City Council rejected TWW’s request for more than $83 million in bonds, including $50 million for the protection of the finished water in the system. The Attorney General said that action led to the decision to file the lawsuit to require the City "to effectively run the water system and protect the public health."
Michael Walker, director of communications and community relations for Trenton Water Works said that it is "our policy not to comment on litigation."
"However, TWW continues to execute its comprehensive reorganization and capital plans, including improving filtration systems, water storage, water distribution, personnel and customer service. We have made substantial progress. And we continue to maintain high water quality and a precise focus on achieving excellence in our operations," added Walker.
“DEP recognizes that Mayor Gusciora has made progress in improving TWW and protecting public health, and recently proposed plans that would enable the system to meet its Safe Drinking Water Act obligations," said McCabe. "Unfortunately, in light of the Trenton City Council’s recent refusal to adequately fund drinking water system improvements, it has become all the more clear that TWW will not meet its obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act and DEP’s orders."
"While unfortunate, moving forward with legal action is a necessary step to take," said Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin. "Hamilton plans to join DEP and will not stop fighting until we are confident that necessary steps have been take to ensure clean drinking water for our residents."
Hamilton Township Council President Rick Tighe said he is "grateful to the State Attorney General for the action he is taking to protect the health and safety of the residents, not only of Hamilton, but of the City of Trenton and the entire region."
"I am mystified as to why the Trenton City Council chose not to take the necessary actions to provide safe drinking water to City residents as well as the residents of Hamilton, Lawrence, Ewing and Hopewell," said Tighe. "I am hopeful that thanks to the Attorney General’s leadership, we will start to see progress in resolving the issues at Trenton Water Works."
In addition to demanding that TWW replace sufficient lead service lines, the lawsuit addresses TWW’s failures to reduce the risk of contamination in its reservoir, as well as TWW’s inability to comply with other maintenance and operational requirements.
The water authority maintains a seven-acre reserve reservoir, which contains millions of gallons of usable, treated water, and provides drinking water to consumers when the system is unable to meet demands. The reservoir is uncovered which makes it subject to contamination from natural elements which can pose "a continuing risk of introducing pathogens into the water supply."
According to the Complaint filed today, the DEP ordered the installation of a floating cover to protect the reservoir from contamination more than a decade ago, and it ordered TWW to complete the cover project by 2009. The lawsuit notes that the City did not comply with DEP’s order, and that it missed two extended deadlines in the process.
In 2018, the City and DEP agreed to an ACO extending the deadline for cover installation until 2023 – with an added requirement that Trenton fulfill a number of interim milestones in 2018 and 2019 to ensure installation of the cover by the agreed-upon deadline. The lawsuit contends that the City has not completed those steps in a timely manner.
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