The Rising Cost Of Fixing Verona’s Water

Date:

Share post:

Last week, Verona residents got a two-page letter with information on our drinking water. The first page is all stuff we knew already–namely, that the wells that used to supply half of our water failed to meet the state standard for chemicals known as PFOAs. But flip the letter over and down near the bottom is the disclosure that the township believes that the work on fixing the wells won’t be finished until November 2024 for the Linn Drive well and March 2025 for the Fairview Avenue well. That means that residents could be paying the 26% increase in the water bills–needed to cover the cost of buying water from outside Verona–for another 14 to 17 months.

Not in the letter: The cost of upgrading the filtration system on Verona’s wells has skyrocketed. When the town announced the filtration work last August, the price tag was pegged at $1 million. Now, a town officials says the tab could be as much as $8 million to $9 million.

UPDATE, AUGUST 12: Steve Neale, the Verona official who provided the figure above, said today that he provided incorrect information. “Unfortunately, I did misspeak with that estimate on cost and will need to send you an updated statement,” Neale said in a text message. He said that the $8 million to $9 million included other projects and that he would not know the cost of the well project alone until a study on it is completed. He did not provide a timeframe for when that would happen. 

- Advertisement - LynneMortimeri

The reason for the sharply higher cost seems to have nothing to do with how Verona is managing the upgrades in its weekly meetings with an outside engineering firm, Jacobs Engineering Group of Morristown. Rather, so many New Jersey water districts must now meet the stricter state standard for PFOA in drinking water that demand for filtration components and construction has pushed the prices for them higher. Steve Neale, Verona’s director of economic development disclosed the new cost estimate in a conversation with this reporter, adding, “that’s hopefully a high estimate.”

How much of the cost will be borne by Verona residents remains to be seen. When the well problem was first disclosed, Verona officials thought they might be able to get help paying for the work from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank). In January, the state launched the Water Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP), which will work with the I-Bank specifically on water projects. WIIP is funded by the federal government’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the state. This year, WIIP is allotting $12.9 million specifically to address contaminants such as PFAS, and another $104 million for other drinking water issues. But how the funding will be distributed and how much of our costs will be covered is still unclear. Neale said that Verona is “actively pursuing” available funding.

For years, Verona got its drinking water from its two wells within its borders and from a Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC) reservoir to our north. The three sources were blended in water tanks on the east and west side of town, which pump water into our homes and businesses.

But since last August, we haven’t been able to use our wells because the water in them exceeded New Jersey’s standard for PFOA, part of a family of chemicals known as PFAS that were used in non-stick pans, stain repellants, firefighting foam and other things. In 2016, the federal government set the acceptable level for PFAS contamination, but states could set stricter standards if they wished. New Jersey did that for PFOA in drinking water in 2018 but gave water authorities until 2020 to be in compliance, at 14 parts per trillion (PPT). In 2020, Verona’s water tested between 20.4 and 28.4 PPT. (Verona posts all water quality reports here.) It is not known how Verona’s wells came to be contaminated by PFOA.

According to state data, Verona is now one of about 100 entities that are out of compliance on PFOA in their drinking water. Some are other towns, like Garfield, Ho-Ho-Kus, Mahwah and Livingston, but there are also businesses, schools, mobile home communities, yacht clubs and churches on the list. Some water districts serve only a handful of people. Ridgewood, which serves 61,700 people, is the largest town on the list, but the Middlesex Water Company is also out of compliance, which affects 233,376 people. All of these entities must now compete for remediation systems in an already strained supply chain, which is raising prices.

 

- Advertisement -
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

4 COMMENTS

  1. As a Verona resident I have real concerns about the quality of our drinking water. It was alarming enough to learn from the Township in August 2021 that our wells were contaminated with PFOA’s and that “the Township is now solely utilizing water purchased from the Passaic Valley Water Commission” but as of May 2022 we learn that said Passaic Valley Water Commission has also violated drinking water requirements, citing high levels of lead and copper. In listing the steps residents can take to limit exposure to these toxic elements,, the Commission has recommended purchasing bottled water for cooking and drinking, purchasing special filters, and getting children tested for possible lead exposure (among other things.)

    I am outraged that the Verona has taken such a cavalier attitude to this problem. Do residents REALLY understand the importance of this issue? What else have we heard since this two sided letter was sent to us a year ago? Having afe drinking water is a right for every citizen. I do not feel safe drinking our Verona water.

  2. MyVeronaNJ has regularly reported on Verona’s drinking water over its 12 years of operation, to present facts and dispel alarmism. You can read all of those stories here.

    Verona’s drinking water has been tested on a very frequent basis over that time and has generally been safe to drink. When there were issues, town officials followed the proper, state-mandated procedures to alert residents. Then they fixed the problem. The same with the Board of Education, when it had to replace some drinking fountains in schools a few years back. The Verona Environmental Commission, which counts a water quality expert among its members, recently held a webinar on PFOA and PFAS chemicals that was free and open to the public. Facts, delivered in a timely fashion, without alarmism. Verona posts all water quality reports here.

    Remember that, when Verona fell out of compliance on PFOA, it was because we tested between 20.4 and 28.4 parts per trillion. The federal standard is 70 PPT. New Jersey chose to make its standard 14 PPT.

    Can we as residents do more to make sure our drinking water stays safe? Absolutely. Homeowners who haven’t replaced old pipes and fixtures inside their homes may want to do so. (The lead service lines from the street pipes to our houses were replaced long ago.) We should avoid using toxic chemicals on our lawns and gardens because they can trickle down to our aquifers. And we should think about all the ways that PFOA and PFAS chemicals can enter our lives, from old pans to fast-food wrappers, and make some changes.

  3. The taste of the water coming to my home improved dramatically when Verona switched to the Passaic Valley System I hope it will remain this good when we switch back…

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related articles

Calling All Scarecrows

The Van Vleck House & Gardens in Montclair is once again holding its Scarecrows in the Garden contest....

Golf Outing To Benefit Football

The third annual Verona Football Golf Outing fundraiser is now open for registration. Verona High School football parents are...

Verona Gets Points On Caldwell, But Not Enough

Verona and Caldwell. A pair deeply intertwined in history. A rivalry fought every year for the title of...

Johann W. Ostman, 83

On the evening of July 15, 2022, Johann (nee Wisniewski) Ostman of King, North Carolina, formerly of Verona,...