Yesterday, many Verona residents were surprised to learn that, because of a water main break in the Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC) system, Verona had to boil its water before drinking. Why, they asked, are we buying water from an outside source when we have our own wells?
Short answer: We haven’t been able to use our wells since August 2021.
We’re getting closer to being able to use them again, but the rehabilitation work has taken far longer than town officials originally thought, at a much greater cost. In the meantime, instead of using mostly well water mixed with a bit of PVWC water, Verona has had to be entirely on PVWC supply.
The legacy of ‘forever’ chemicals
Two years ago, Verona’s wells had to be taken offline after the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found that water from them was not in compliance with the state standard on Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), one of a family of chemicals known as PFAS that have been used to make things like non-stick pans, stain repellants and firefighting foam. Though largely discontinued, the so-called forever chemicals have leached into groundwater all across the U.S.
In 2018, New Jersey set a drinking water standard for PFOA at 14 parts per trillion (PPT) and municipalities were told they needed to be in compliance by 2020. New Jersey’s rule was far stricter than the federal standard established in 2016, and they meant that more than 100 entities, including towns like Verona, were out of compliance.
Verona originally thought it would cost $1 million to put new filtration systems on our two wellheads, one located in the Verona Community Center’s annex building and the other across Fairview Avenue from Verona High School. But supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, combined with rising demand from stricter PFOA standards across the U.S., have pushed the price tag higher. In a May 15 presentation to the Town Council, the firm retained by Verona to do the work, Jacobs Engineering Group, said the cost would now be $5.5 million. The Jacobs representative stressed that the firm has designed Verona’s systems so that there will be multiple sources for its components, which should help to hold the costs where they are now.
Funding the remediation work
How the work gets paid for remains to be determined. Verona officials intend to apply to the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank), an independent state financing entity that offers low interest rate loans. There’s also the state’s Water Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP), which is funded by the federal government’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In addition, Verona is a party to a class-action settlement with one of the makers of PFOA chemicals, though the town has not disclosed the terms of that settlement.
Jacobs expects the Linn Drive well to be back in service next year, but the Fairview Avenue well won’t be online until 2025. Verona has to construct an entirely new building to house the filtration equipment there, and town officials are hopeful it won’t be delayed by state approvals. The Fairview Avenue property is a so-called Green Acres site. Mayor Christopher Tamburro said Wednesday that town officials are working to keep the permitting process moving. “Nobody is sitting on their hands,” he said. “It needs to get done, but the regulatory side is significant.”
In the meantime, Verona residents must pay a surcharge for the extra PVWC water we need to buy and weather any problems that arise with that supply. As of Thursday morning, the boil water notice remains in effect, which means that residents need to boil any water they intend to drink for one minute.