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NJ must invest in stormwater utilities to address flooding

By Lindsey Sigmund and Ed Potosnak

On Jan. 9, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency due to flooding across the state. Later that day, Murphy provided his State of the State address, which acknowledged the state of emergency but did not point to a policy solution to address the perpetual struggle of flooding, polluted waterways and crumbling stormwater infrastructure. This storm was one of many, an issue acknowledged in a recent article, “NJ, DC lawmakers press for solutions for flood-prone parts of North Jersey.”

What the article and our lawmakers continue to overlook are the methods, tools and techniques to establish stormwater utilities. Stormwater utilities provide a dedicated source of funding, with fees assessed based on a property’s contribution to runoff, to address desperately needed water infrastructure upgrades. Over 2,000 stormwater utilities have been established nationwide, but New Jersey need look no further than the city of Lambertville to find a community taking charge and investigating what a dedicated source of funding for stormwater would look like. During his State of the City address, Mayor Andrew Nowick spoke about the city’s ongoing exploration of a stormwater utility to grapple with Lambertville’s stormwater management needs.

With grants provided by the state DEP and Flood Defense New Jersey, we should expect to see stormwater utilities pop up across the state. In the meantime, New Jersey Future created a Stormwater Utility Resource Center and works with Flood Defense partners to provide support to communities investigating and implementing stormwater utilities. We encourage all New Jersey residents — from elected local and state leaders to community members — to promote stormwater utilities as a sustainable funding stream for needed water infrastructure investments.

Nowick said it best: “Increased pressure on our system is not only an environmental issue, it is a health and safety issue, and we must look at every possible solution, beyond the uncertainty that the status quo will suffice.”