When it rains, it sometimes pours, which can be a problem for New Jersey’s waterways, because in many locations overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants can end up spewing raw sewage into the state’s rivers and bays.

It is a problem long neglected by the state’s urban areas and policymakers, who have largely failed to deal with the issue, in part perhaps it could impose huge costs, amounting to $14 billion, according to some projections.

Few dispute the need to end the pollution. The current system, dubbed combined sewer overflow (CSO), collects sewage as well as stormwater during heavy storms, and can threaten human health because sewage sometimes backs ups in homes and streets. The pollution can also lead to the closure of beaches and shellfish beds.

In an attempt to deal with the problem, a legislative committee yesterday approved a bill (A-1583) that would allow 21 urban communities with CSOs to set up stormwater utilities to help deal with the problem. The utilities would be allowed to assess fees on owners of parking lots and other paved areas where runoff from storms overwhelms the local sewage treatment plant’s capacity to adequately treat wastewater.

“Rainwater that is not absorbed into the ground or evaporated carries contaminants from laws, streets, buildings and parking lots and deposits them into our water sources,’’ said Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex), the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, which released the measure.

The bill won wide support from environmentalists.

“We have a wastewater problem along our shores, when it rains, the sewage is degrading water quality,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “This is a good step to finding a way to deal with that problem.’’

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