DEP Commissioner Makes Good On Commitment to Green Technologies
High-level DEP staffers inform state CSO Group that
"all practical options" are on the table
By Hugh M. Carola
Earlier this year, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) brought together municipal officials, wastewater plant managers, engineers and clean-water advocates like Captain Bill Sheehan to form the New Jersey Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Group. The Group and its Citizens Advisory Committee are charged with finding a way to deal with the problem of CSOs.
A bit of background: CSOs are one of the major sources of water pollution that affect the Hackensack River and other urban waterways. CSOs occur during rain events in municipalities that are served by combined sewer systems (CSS) which are 19th Century-vintage technologies that blend wastewater and stormwater in common pipes. When CSSs work correctly, all water is conveyed to treatment plants but all too often when it rains, overflows result and raw sewage is discharged directly into our waterways; not a good thing.
The goal of the state CSO Group, as well as regional and county-based CSO groups was and remains the abatement and ultimate elimination of CSOs by all available means, low-tech as well as high-tech. In our previous issue of Tidelines we reported that Captain Bill became concerned over what he perceived as attempts by some Group members favoring expensive "end-of-pipe" solutions to unduly influence the process. It was out of this concern that Sheehan wrote to DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson to inform her of what was happening and to seek her intervention.
"I was worried that the process was in danger of being hijacked and that money alone would decide the issue," said Captain Bill. "I knew I had to blow the whistle and let the Commissioner know about it."
In that same article we reported that Commissioner Jackson had responded positively to the Captain's letter and was planning to convene a "CSO Summit" to address the problems he highlighted. On June 28, the Commissioner made good on her promise. She also reiterated one of the DEP's original intentions in forming the Group - to give equal consideration to all practical solutions to the problem of CSOs.
That evening, at a meeting in North Bergen, the New Jersey CSO Group met with a high-level delegation from the DEP led by Narinder K. Ahuja, director of the department's Division of Water Quality. There, in no uncertain terms, Mr. Ahuja and his colleagues explained that all practical options for CSO abatement and elimination were "on the table," and would be reviewed by the DEP as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the bi-state Harbor Estuary Commission.
Also at the meeting, CSO Group member Franco Montalto of eDesign Dynamics, a company on the cutting edge of low-impact technology, gave a presentation on using a watershed-based approach to CSO abatement. According to Montalto, funds spent on low impact solutions reduce CSO discharges in a more cost-effective manner than the same dollar spent on high-impact end-of-pipe infrastructure. While some other engineers scoffed, the technologies Montalto described are already in place and keeping rivers cleaner throughout Europe.
"What then took place can only be described as a lively debate during the rest of the meeting," recalled Captain Bill. "It was eerily reminiscent of our battles to save the Meadowlands, only this time the argument wasn't us-vs.-them, it was more like clean-vs.-cleaner and thrifty-vs.-expensive."
Another important point that came up during the meeting was the problem of CSOs in New York. Taken together, the CSO output of seven New Jersey counties (Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Essex, Union, Middlesex and Monmouth) is less than the output of New York City. Needless to say, that's a lot of pollution no matter where you're from. According to the New Jersey officials, one of the Harbor Estuary Commission's roles is to mediate conflicts between the two states.
When the meeting adjourned, two points had been made abundantly clear: that the ultimate solution to the problem of CSOs lies in using every tool at our disposal, not just the expensive ones; and that the problem is more complex than most people thought.
“That just means we have to work harder," said Captain Bill.
The next CSO Group Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 20 at the North Hudson Sewerage Authority, 1600 Adams Sterrt, Hoboken. Visit www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/events.html for information about upcoming public hearings and meetings.
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