Health & Wellness

From the Reservoir to Your Tap: Inside New Jersey American Water

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SHORT HILLS, NJ – Frank Marascia gets a little frustrated when he hears about people buying expensive bottled water just to be on the safe side.

That’s because Marascia, production manager for New Jersey American Water (NJAW), knows water coming from the taps of the more than 78,000 homes and businesses in northern New Jersey relying on NJAW is probably safer to drink than costly water in bottles. He noted New Jersey’s drinking water standards are stricter than those imposed by the federal government on purveyors of bottled water.

NJAW performs a number of intricate and thorough processes to meet those stringent drinking water regulations in New Jersey, said Marascia. “I would like customers to know the 24/7, 365-day-per-year effort that goes into providing drinkable water,” said Marascia, who stressed that his staff goes above and beyond every day to satisfy the customers connected to every water main.

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“You can turn a faucet on any time of the night or day, weekday, weekends and holidays, and water always comes out of it,” he said. “There’s a huge effort that goes into providing clean, safe drinking water to customers in this country.”

In 2012, NJAW’s Canoe Brook Water Treatment Plant in Short Hills underwent a $78 million upgrade to address water quality issues and meet proper drinking standards. Serving 25 municipalities throughout North Jersey, the company produces an average of 40 million gallons of water daily for its Short Hills system.

Water distributed by NJAW at their Canoe Brook Water Treatment Plant comes from the Passaic River and from Canoe Brook and is pumped into three reservoirs: two on site at the water treatment plant in Short Hills and one near the Livingston Mall, Marascia explained. In addition to the three reservoirs, the company has many other sources of water it can use in a pinch, said Marascia. “We just increased our resiliency and our ability to meet customer requirements as far as water quality and quantity,” he said. “We’ve also retired older assets that were past their useful life and replaced them with more up-to-date assets.”

According to Marascia, tap water quality in New Jersey is regulated by the state in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act, which requires NJAW to address potential contamination through an elaborate disinfection process and provide proof of decontamination each month.

Extended periods of dry weather are among the company’s bigger challenges, said Marascia. During these periods of “baseflow,” when water levels are shallow due to lack of rain, algae can bloom, he said. The algae tends to float, said Marascia, noting that this, combined with the heating up of water at the surface of the reservoir causes the water to lose its fresh “river” character and take on a “reservoir” character, he said. In order to meet state and customer demands, one of NJAW’s goals is to pump as much water as possible into the three reservoirs during the off-peak season (between November and May), he said.

Although a healthy balance of algae ultimately benefits water quality, NJAW needs to take preventative measures to limit its lifecycle and ability to reproduce, said Marascia. He said NJAW spends a significant amount of time, money and effort managing these issues. Some of the tools it uses are so-called Solar Bees, which are mixers that prevent stratification, and LG Sonic Algae Control, a “green” technology that omits underwater radio waves for algae control, said Marascia.

NJAW also takes preventative measures for corrosion control to keep lead or copper from leaching into the water, he said. The Short Hills plant feeds into the water zinc orthophosphate, a corrosion inhibitor, said Marascia, noting that the most common source of lead or copper in tap water is lead pipes, lead solder and molded metal faucets in older household plumbing.

One of the biggest public-health achievements of public water systems is the use of chlorine for disinfection. Properly using this effective method requires careful control of chlorine concentrations and exposure duration based on pH balance, water temperature, flow and concentration of chlorine, said Marascia. NJAW also ensures that organic matter is removed in order to limit the formation of harmful disinfection by-products (DBPs), he stressed.

Each year, NJAW provides its customers with an Annual Water Quality Report. This is now available online at newjerseyamwater.com.

New Jersey American Water serves 18 counties in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Union and Warren. 

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