Jersey City MUA to Invest $52 Million in Sewer System to Resolve Federal Clean Water Act Violations

The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) will spend more than $52 million on sewer repairs and upgrades and pay a civil penalty of $375,000 after repeated violations of the Clean Water Act, according to a settlement with the federal government made public today.

The MUA has violated the landmark environmental law by releasing untreated sewage into the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers, as well as Newark Bay and Penhorn Creek, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the settlement, the MUA is required to comply with its Clean Water Act permit and will conduct evaluations to identify the problems that led to releases of untreated sewage. It will also complete repairs to approximately 25,000 feet of sewer lines over the next eight years, and invest $550,000 into a project that will remove privately-owned sewers from homes in several neighborhoods in Jersey City and replace them with direct sewer connections.

City officials tell JCI that the MUA was already planning on making the upgrades as part of its 10-year master plan, and that the agency has been working with the EPA on this settlement for the past two years.

“This agreement, like others reached with cities across the country, addresses critically important and long-overdue upgrades to the municipal sewer system in Jersey City, which are required if MUA is to achieve compliance with the nation’s Clean Water Act,” Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, says in a statement.

“Investment in municipal infrastructure and local commitments like those in today‚Äôs agreement are practical and necessary solutions to sewer overflow problems,” EPA Region 2 administrator Judith Enck says in a statement. “Today’s agreement will help improve water quality in waters around Jersey City and protect community residents from exposure to raw sewage and contaminated stormwater, now, and into the future.”

Combined sewer systems like the ones to be replaced in Jersey City are designed to transport sewage, industrial wastewater and rainwater runoff in the same pipes to wastewater treatment plants. But during periods of heavy rainfall, the volume of wastewater traveling through a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the treatment plant. The result is overflows that contain untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris in addition to the stormwater.

Environmental advocates were quick to praise the settlement, with NY/NJ Baykeeper executive director Debbie Mans calling it “an important step to remedy the public health and environmental hazards associated with the city’s combined sewer system,” and New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel saying it will “help to clean up major water pollution problems” in the Jersey City area.

“The release of untreated sewage into our waterways results in closed shellfish beds, water-borne illnesses, and limited recreational opportunities,” Mans says in a statement. “Other New Jersey cities should take note of this federal action and invest in cost-effective green infrastructure solutions to keep stormwater out of their sewer systems to prevent overflows. These long-overdue upgrades will result in improved water quality for our region including the New York/New Jersey Harbor, Raritan Bay, and Sandy Hook Bay.”

Tittel adds that the settlement “will not only clean up our waterways, but help us reclaim our waterways for recreational use.”

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy should be available soon on the Department of Justice website.

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.