NEWARK, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy pledged to work with federal lawmakers to solve Newark’s lead issue as Mayor Ras Baraka demanded President Donald Trump fix the nation’s failing water infrastructure instead of funding a border wall.
Murphy's promise came yesterday in his State of the State address. The governor's speech and a statement put out by Baraka applauded each other for the way they've handled the water issue in Newark, which has received four violations since 2017 for elevated levels of lead.
The governor said aging lead infrastructure affects more than just Newark and impacts more than 1.5 million residents. He vowed to “leverage every opportunity” to build modern water infrastructure too.
“Mayor Ras Baraka has been on the frontlines of this, and I applaud him and his team for their work to protect Newark’s residents,” Murphy’s prepared statements read. “Outdated infrastructure is a national problem, and it requires a federal solution. I will continue working with our Congressional delegation to press the federal government for greater support and assistance -- whether it pertains to clean water, or getting the Gateway Tunnel built.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment to clarify what specifically Murphy would be pressing the federal government for.
A city-commissioned study found the chemical the city treats its water with to prevent lead from leaching off into pipes had become ineffective. The process is known as corrosion control. The city began to distribute lead filters to residents in October after receiving preliminary results from the study it commissioned.
Baraka, in turn, gave kudos to Murphy for approving state legislation that allowed the city to bond in order to fund a lead service line replacement program. The legislation is unique since it gives the city the authority to use public funds to help replace private property.
“Every family in New Jersey is entitled to clean, safe drinking water as a basic human right," Baraka said in a statement regarding Murphy's speech. "Today, many homes in Newark are at risk of lead in their drinking water. That is why Governor Murphy and legislative leaders are partnering with the City of Newark to address this crisis and permanently fix our aging water infrastructure.
“As a result, the City of Newark has developed a unique public-private partnership to begin replacing all of our lead service lines. This would not have been possible without the steadfast support and leadership of Governor Murphy and our legislators and the funding they helped to deliver.”
A city spokesman clarified that the partnership includes the bond program and working with the congressional delegation to address the problem nationwide. The partnership also entails working with the governor and state legislature to ensure that funds are available for the first phases of the lead service line replacement program.
City officials have said they are beginning to implement a more effective corrosion control inhibitor, which could take up to eight months. In the meantime, the city’s $70 million bond program will help replace lead service lines over the next 10 years. The first phase of the program is slated to start sometime this month.
Baraka also took a swing at Trump yesterday in an open letter that expressed the urgency of replacing lead service lines. A city spokesman said the White House had not provided a response as of this morning.
"Although the situation in Newark is very different from that of Flint, our need to replace lead service lines is equally urgent," Baraka wrote. "I join in solidarity with the 11-year-old girl known as Little Miss Flint who told you that spending $5 billion to make water safe is a much better way to protect Americans than building the wall."
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is currently suing city and state officials for allegedly violating federal regulations that caused lead levels to spike. Emails cited in the NRDC’s lawsuit indicate that city official may have known that its corrosion control method had become ineffective as early as February, about eight months before lead filters were distributed.
The New Jersey Drinking Water Watch website also showed that the city has received three other violations since December related to haloacetic acids, a possible carcinogen, and turbidity.