On July 23, 2020, New Jersey American Water President Cheryl Norton announced a bold new program that proposes to accelerate capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure while creating and/or sustaining thousands of jobs. Solutions Today and Reinvesting Tomorrow (START), consists of several distinct proposed pieces, which collectively will serve the greater good of New Jersey American Water’s customers and the entire state.
Investing in Water & Wastewater Infrastructure Can Help Rebuild New Jersey's Economy
COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges. One of those challenges is how to help our economy recover from months of work shutdowns and social distancing. When times have been tough before, infrastructure has proven to be an effective way to not only move our economy forward but provide the repairs and enhancements we all need. Water and wastewater infrastructure should, and will be, no different as New Jersey seeks to recover from COVID-19.
That mindset is what led New Jersey American Water to recently announce a multi-pronged new program that, if implemented, will accelerate capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure while creating and/or sustaining thousands of jobs. Known as the Solutions Today and Reinvesting Tomorrow (START) program, it consists of several distinct proposed pieces that collectively will serve the greater good of the entire state.
The premise of START is simple enough: to create an acceleration in capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure that can result in the improvement of those systems and the creation and retention of thousands of jobs.
START’s largest component is the Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Investment Program (WWIIP). WWIIP is a new proposal that would require regulatory or legislative approval –– which would speed up capital investment in water and wastewater systems. WWIIP could generate between $100 million - $150 million in accelerated capital investments and the creation of 1,500 - 2,000 jobs.
While accelerated infrastructure investment supported by timely cost recovery is a key component of START, other pieces of START are also critical.
There is currently legislation (A-4857) that would allow for water utilities to receive full cost recovery for the replacement of the customer-owned portion of a lead service line (street to the home) in addition to the company owned side. Replacing lead service lines in conjunction with main replacements or relocations is not only a cost-effective, efficient, and responsible way to continue infrastructure renewal programs, but it also best addresses the health and safety concerns associated with partial lead service line replacements.
For more than two decades, New Jersey American Water has been assisting low-income water customers who qualify through our H2O Help to Others Program, which is administered by New Jersey Shares. Customers who meet lower income requirements may receive a grant of up to $500 to help pay their water bill, and they may also qualify for up to 100% discount on their service charges. Due to the impact of COVID-19 and as part of the START initiative, we recently expanded the program to make it easier to apply and qualify.
START also looks to expand our Supplier Diversity Program. We view supplier diversity as a business imperative, not just the “right thing to do.” We realize that small, minority-owned, women-owned and other diverse businesses play a vital role in the economic well-being of our communities. That is why, through START, we will continue to strengthen our Supplier Diversity efforts through increased partnerships with diverse businesses in New Jersey.
Lastly, START aims to create a new workforce employment initiative. The reality is that the water industry over the next five years faces an employee work shortage as “new” employees into the water industry are not evolving. Many people, especially young adults, do not know about the well-paying jobs that are attainable in the water industry. We are working with the Governor’s Office/Department of Labor and the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools to develop such an initiative and will be announcing further details in the near future.
Recovering from COVID-19 will not be easy, but it can happen. START aims to address these issues and help New Jersey’s economy get moving. Strengthening our water and wastewater infrastructure, coupled with unique ways to tackle the issues facing us, can provide a way there.