NEWARK, NJ - The city may be getting yet another funding option to help pay the cost of replacing all of its lead service lines.
On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a bill that would allow states to transfer up to $100 million from the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which aims to address lead water contamination in drinking water across the country.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka indicated last week that federal funds could be used to help pay the debt service on a loan used to replace all 18,000 lead service lines in the city once city and state officials now figure out how to free up the money.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor turned presidential Democratic candidate, began pushing for the passage of the funding mechanism in October 2018 when city officials acknowledged the lead water problem and began handing out free water filters to residents. After clearing the Senate, the bill passed the House last month before it landed on the president's desk.
“Every day, children and families are facing the realities of our country’s aging infrastructure and worrying about the safety of their drinking water,” Booker said in a statement. “The federal government has a responsibility to restore their peace of mind and this legislation will give states desperately needed resources to repair and upgrade their drinking water systems.”
The federal measure allows a state to transfer money from its clean water state revolving fund to its drinking water state revolving fund for one year in order to address the public health threat lead poses in people’s drinking water, according to the bill.
Now, city officials have to begin negotiations with the state, which will determine how to split that money up among jurisdictions.
There was no indication from Gov. Phil Murphy that Newark would receive any preference for the funds, according to a statement by Murphy after the bill was signed Friday.
Murphy lauded Booker’s work on the bill in a statement as a “monumental step” toward achieving the goal of safe drinking water across the state.
The option of having the federal funding stream pay for Newark’s lead service line replacement program came the same week Newark secured an additional $155 million from the Port Authority that it says it aims to use to pay the debt service on a $120 million loan from Essex County to pay for and expedite pipe replacement.
The loan will cost the city $6 million each year over the course of the 30-year loan.
After sending mixed messages about what the Port Authority money would pay for, Baraka suggested last week that the federal funding allowed by the bill might be used to pay the debt service instead. Baraka said the $120 million loan covers the entire cost of replacing the lead pipes.
In August, the lead water contamination crisis erupted after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended the city distribute bottled water because tests of two of three water filters had found they were not working. The city announced last week it would end its free bottled water distribution program Tuesday and return to handing residents free water filters for use in their homes.