Creating a Model for Statewide, Nationwide Innovation

Lynn Broaddus
Director, Environment Program, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread

In May 2014, a group of New Jersey leaders, including water utilities, environmental organizations, economic and community development organizations, the private sector, and local, state and federal government, came together in Jersey City to dig deeper into the state of New Jersey’s water infrastructure. The state’s cities have some of the oldest pipes in the country, and 21 cities regularly experience combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Nearly half a century after the Clean Water Act was adopted into federal law, these New Jersey cities still do not have long-term CSO control plans. Some water delivery systems in the state lose or cannot account for roughly one-fifth of their treated water.

Having seen the vulnerability of its water systems during Superstorm Sandy, with low-lying centralized treatment plants being among the first services to go down due to storm surge, New Jersey understands the importance of resilient water infrastructure. So when New Jersey Future and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation suggested we partner with them in an effort to catalyze changes in New Jersey’s cities, we immediately knew this was a great opportunity to apply and leverage what we have learned through our Charting New Waters convenings.

A lot came out of our May convening, including a full Agenda for Change report designed to transform New Jersey’s obsolete urban water systems. Representatives from Camden to Hoboken, different as the cities may be in some ways, came together to share similar challenges they face around water infrastructure needs. Cities throughout the country have many of these same worries, but New Jersey has the opportunity to be the first to offer its citizens a set of shared priorities, principles and solutions. If approached in unison, a community of practice and economies of scale can bolster these communities’ ability to seize the opportunities at hand.

This edition of Inspiring Solutions will feature essays from seasoned leaders in New Jersey who are exploring ways to address New Jersey's urban water infrastructure challenges in this financially constrained environment. Together, these contributors give us insight into what will it take to catalyze widespread urban revitalization through innovative investments in water infrastructure.

The ideas in these essays can be applied beyond the state of New Jersey, and they are a great jumping-off point for other states in sparking discussion around investing in water infrastructure.

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