TRENTON, NJ – Today, Mayor Reed Gusciora gave testimony and answered questions before the State Assembly’s Telecommunications and Utilities Committee regarding Trenton Water Works, the City-owned regional water distribution operation.
Prepared remarks follow:
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, good afternoon.
I’m Mayor Reed Gusciora of the great City of Trenton. Trenton Water Works (TWW) is run under the City’s Department of Water and Sewer.
I am joined here today by members of TWW's leadership team:
• Mark Lavenberg, Director of the city’s Department of Water and Sewer, which operates Trenton Water Works.
• Edmund Johnson - TWW's licensed operator.
• Taya Brown-Humphrey - Superintendent of TWW's water-filtration plant.
• David Smith – TWW’s Chief Engineer who oversees much of the water utility’s capital projects.
Before my team and I take your questions, I would like your permission to make a statement.
In this statement, I will describe what TWW has done and what it will do to improve its operations, maintain high water quality, and position the water utility for operational success.
Trenton Water Works is among the largest and oldest public water systems in the United States. It is owned and operated by Trenton municipal government.
The City of Trenton purchased the system in 1859. We have a current bond debt of $146 million and the system has not been appraised in over two decades; its estimated valued would exceed $250 million.
TWW operates a 60-million-gallon water-filtration plant, the 100-million-gallon Pennington Avenue Reservoir, 683 miles of water mains, three pump stations, nearly 8,000 valves, more than 3,500 fire hydrants, and six interconnections with other water suppliers.
The system produces 28 million gallons of drinking water daily for approximately 217,000 consumers (or 62,903 households) in a five-municipality service area: the City of Trenton, Ewing Township, parts of Hamilton Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township.
Although the TWW system is well-engineered, parts of our infrastructure are more than 50 years old and older, requiring replacement—capital costs that could approach nearly a billion dollars.
One of many projects TWW is forging ahead with is the 106-year-old Pennington Avenue Reservoir, a Class 4 dam we plan to decommission and replace with modern decentralized water storage tanks. We estimate this work to cost more than $100 million.
The reservoir is one of three open-air reservoirs in New Jersey. The others are in Newark and Clifton. The Passaic Valley Water Commission operates the Clifton reservoir.
I am unaware of any plans Clifton and Newark have to take their reservoirs out of service, but TWW has a comprehensive plan.
As you know, former Mayor Eric Jackson signed an Administrative Consent Order, ACO 1, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, directing TWW to improve operations.
Shortly after taking office, I signed an updated Administrative Consent Order, ACO 2, directing TWW to remove 21 percent of lead service lines from its infrastructure and at private homes in four towns: Trenton, Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, and Lawrence Township.
We removed 30 percent, completing the directives in the Lead and Copper Rule ACO 2.
It is important to note that TWW finalized its inventory of lead services—more than 30,000—in our system in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Although we've completed ACO 2, we aim to remove all lead service lines from our system and help private homeowners do the same. To that end, we are moving deliberately to secure additional funding for TWW's Lead Service Line Replacement Program.
The work of strengthening TWW's operations, and personnel, advancing capital projects, removing lead, and improving our communications with ratepayers, service area residents, and stakeholders continue, and much remains to be done.
Despite the politically motivated obstruction of an intractable City Council and the COVID-19 pandemic, I am pleased to report that we made significant progress over the last 1,569 days.
TWW has completed capital projects and is advancing others.
We are working to reverse approximately 50 years of underinvestment in the water utility.
In December 2019, TWW launched its Lead Service Line Replacement Program. Since then, we've removed nearly 10,000 lead services lines from our system and at private homes in four municipalities.
It is important to note that Trenton City Council rejected a $15 million bond request for TWW's Lead Service Line Replacement Program, which included a $7 million grant that TWW lost. Had our City Council approved the measure, we would have been forgiven for half of the bonding and been able to reinvest more funds into our water system.
That same month, we launched a corrosion control project, adding zinc orthophosphate to our water treatment process. The FDA-approved food additive coats the interior of pipes and plumbing fixtures to prevent lead particles from leaching into the water.
We reduced lead levels systemwide by more than 60 percent.
In February 2020, we developed a broader $405-million, six-year capital plan, a blueprint for innovation and excellence in drinking-water production, water storage, and water distribution.
We completed the Radnor Avenue water-main extension in Ewing Township, a $600,000 project restoring fire suppression to a 400-home community.
And we completed the rehabilitation of the Ewing Booster Station, improving water-system hydraulics in Ewing Township.
To improve raw water's disinfection, we rehabilitated the water-filtration plant's chlorine contact basins, a $5 million capital project, and replaced the plant's 24 anthracite-based filters.
To make the water-filtration plant (WFP) more resilient, we completed the rehabilitation of its raw water intake, an $8.2 million project.
To improve water quality in Hamilton Township, we completed the installation of a recirculation system at the Mercerville Elevated Tank.
We completed cleaning and lining water mains along Klockner Avenue in Hamilton Township and along Crown Road in Ewing Township to improve water quality and water-distribution-system hydraulics, projects totaling $3 million.
We replaced more than 4,000 antiquated water meters. And we're preparing to launch a $25 million project to replace water meters systemwide with models our personnel can read remotely. This effort will improve the timeliness of billing.
Our systemwide leak detection program is underway. This work will help us manage systemwide water loss and lost revenue.
Although we successfully secured $83 million in bond authorizations to fund critical infrastructure projects, Trenton City Council, led by Council President Kathy McBride, blocked $33 million in bond requests. The funding was for various filtration-plant projects, including work on the superpulsator washdown system, a new roof, a new HVAC system, and water-distribution system upgrades.
We are strengthening the capabilities of TWW's workforce and filling vacant positions.
To help us achieve this goal, we partnered with water-industry veteran Andrew Pappachen, Mercer County Community College, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to develop an in-house water operator training and apprenticeship program.
Twenty-two (22) employees have graduated from the program.
Administrative Consent Order 1 concerning our operations directed TWW to reduce its job vacancies.
We reduced our vacancy rate to 5 percent from 45 percent.
Currently, we have 157 employees.
We hired a Budget Officer and in-house attorney to assist us in managing TWW financials and coordinating legal matters with the city's Law Department.
And to help manage an expanding portfolio of capital projects, TWW expanded its engineering team, hiring a chief engineer and two principal engineers to help manage and advance capital projects.
When this current election cycle has ended, and with a new City Council, TWW has several short-term goals:
We want to begin Phases three to five of the Lead Service Line Replacement Program. We just learned that Senator Bob Menendez and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman have $5 million to help TWW pay for this work.
Many thanks to our New Jersey leaders in Washington, D.C., for advocating for TWW.
At the water-filtration plant, a $500 million asset, we want to rehabilitate the water-filtration plant's gravity thickener and belt filter press equipment and upgrade the plant's superpulsators washdown system, which helps remove organics from raw water drawn from the Delaware River.
We must upgrade the filtration plant's powder-activated carbon feed system.
We must improve the air quality at the water-filtration plant and seal the building by replacing the roof - a $25 million price tag.
In TWW's water-distribution system, we want to clean and line water mains in the Sykes Avenue neighborhood of Hamilton Township and install flushing devices on dead-end mains to reduce water age.
We want to replace nearly two miles of water main on Olden Avenue in Ewing Township to improve the distribution system's performance.
We want to advance work to build two 8-million-gallon takes on Prospect Street, part of a TWW plan to decommission the Pennington Avenue Reservoir. We'll need to secure bond financing with City Council approval.
We have capital work to execute at TWW's Central Pumping Station, including fire alarm system improvements.
We have comprehensive design and engineering work that needs to get done with a more receptive and supportive City Council.
When funding for design and engineering work is blocked, capital work is delayed and becomes more expensive.
Again, we measure our capital work in millions of dollars.
Advancing this dynamic requires communication, cooperation, and support from our ratepayers, regulators, and political leadership.
Concerning water quality violations, for total transparency, TWW has had ten (10) violations in 2018 alone, but we've reduced that number to one violation in the past four years.
Also, compared to 2018, we've reduced lead exceedances by more than 65 percent, as our corrosion control project is proving effective.
Many of our other non-water quality violations result from not promptly reporting data to state regulators or late public notifications, deficiencies we are working to eliminate—and we will.
We are correcting these missteps by tightening operational procedures, training, and employee discipline.
I want to assure our valued customers, service area residents, and stakeholders that the drinking water that Trenton Water Works produces daily is high-quality, safe to drink, and produced under state and federal Safe Drinking Water standards.
TWW employees are hardworking and committed to excellence in drinking water production and fire protection—our principal mission.
To that end, as TWW looks forward to a strategic partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to analyze its technical, managerial, and financial capacity in the weeks and months ahead to refine, strengthen and advance our comprehensive modernization plan, we endeavor to be transparent and more communicative with our customers and stakeholders.
Thank you for your attention.
We are happy to take your questions.
TWW supplies approximately 28 million gallons of water per day to 217,000 consumers in a service area comprised of parts or all of Trenton, Ewing Township, Hamilton Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township.
TWW is one of the oldest and largest publicly-owned water systems in the United States. Purchased by the City in 1859, they operate a 60-million-gallon water filtration plant and water distribution system that consists of a 100-million-gallon reservoir, 683 miles of water mains, three pump stations, nearly 8,000 valves, 3,517 fire hydrants, and six interconnections between TWW and other water suppliers. TWW serves approximately 63,000 metered customers.