The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection released a 16-page Administrative Consent Order (ACO) yesterday detailing a series of steps to address infrastructure, staffing, operational and public notification needs at the water utility.
The DEP issued 13 violations against TWW over the last 13 months, its worst stretch on record. Two incidents in January — the discovery of a potentially harmful chemical in the water and a 12-hour delay in notifying customers of a boil water notice — spurred local officials to take action and publicly voice their concerns against TWW.
TWW serves 225,000 people in the City of Trenton and nearby suburbs Ewing, Lawrence, Hamilton and Hopewell. The DEP held a meeting yesterday with officials from each of the municipalities served by TWW to discuss the agreement and outline steps to move forward.
The ACO resolves Notices of Violation the DEP issued to Trenton Water Works on July 21, 2017 and Jan. 5. The agreement establishes timeframes for TWW to bring their operations into compliance with DEP regulations.
According to the ACO, the water utility must fill open staff positions within the next year, starting with more critical positions to be filled within the next few months. A September 2017 consultants’ report commissioned by the City of Trenton found that TWW only has one-third of the staff needed to operate its system, despite carrying a $12 million surplus.
The agreement also outlines ways in which TWW must enhance its emergency response system. This involves improving its telephone outreach system, notifications to local government officials in its service area, and communications with DEP personnel.
In addition, the ACO outlines preliminary measures to minimize plant disruptions at the river intake resulting from turbid or low water conditions, or from clogging by debris, aquatic vegetation or ice.
TWW also has until Dec. 31 to provide a detailed plan for system-wide compliance with the Water Quality Accountability Act, which sets requirements for the water utility to improve the safety and reliability of their systems.
While the ACO is a step in the right direction for the water utility, enforcement will be the main determining factor in its success. TWW reached an ACO with the DEP in March 2009 regarding issues with an open-air reservoir. The ACO required the City of Trenton to get in compliance with federal regulations for uncovered reservoir systems by March 2013. The DEP granted the city multiple extensions — the most recent extension was in January 2014 — and yet the reservoir remains uncovered.
According to the Feb. 5 ACO, TWW will be required to submit monthly progress reports that provide an evaluation of all corrective measures implemented to date. TWW must also identify any issues that could impact complying with the ACO and outline activities planned for the next reporting period.