TRENTON – A lot of water, sewer and wastewater infrastructure in New Jersey is going to need to be replaced or upgraded in the decades ahead, and that’s likely to come with a hefty price tag.

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Rutgers University associate professor Daniel Van Abs said drinking water systems in New Jersey need extensive attention, from replacing century-old underground equipment to looking at reservoirs and wells not designed for the increased precipitation expected due to climate change.

“All of these changes are going to place increased stresses on affordability,” Van Abs said. “We already have affordability issues in the state of New Jersey – people who are really struggling to pay their water and sewer bills and all of the other costs that their households face.”

“New Jersey could create a robust system for household affordability similar to that for energy to address the increasing cost,” Van Abs suggested to lawmakers at an Assembly committee hearing.

More expensive approaches to adapting to climate change are being studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which since 2016 has been working on a study of how to make New Jersey’s back bays more resilient to the threat of flooding, which now happens sometimes on sunny days.

The study was suspended in 2019 due to a lack of funding but restarted this spring. A draft report is expected in July, following by public hearings and input. Any projects resulting from the study aren’t likely to begin until 2030.

Jay Smith, a coastal resilience scientist at Army Corps, said the back-bay solutions are very different than those on the oceanfront.

“These potential solutions are much more complex and more costly, but there’s a clear need to consider and evaluate all options,” Smith said.

“The potential solutions, as I said, are costly. However, the cost of doing nothing is even more staggering,” said Smith, who said the study projects the area will endure $1.6 billion in average annualized damages through and beyond 2080.

Anthony Broccoli, co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, said rising temperatures and sea levels are making more areas of New Jersey vulnerable to flooding damage.

“It has been estimated that human-cased sea-level rise was responsible for about $5 billion of the $30 billion of damage that Hurricane Sandy caused in New Jersey,” Broccoli said.

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Stacy McCormack, government affairs manager for The Nature Conservancy, said investments in nature as a form of infrastructure can help with that if funding is identified – reducing risk and providing social, environmental and economic benefits.

“For instance, a Lloyd’s and Nature Conservancy study showed that New Jersey’s salt marshes reduced flood damage during Superstorm Sandy by about $425 million,” McCormack said.

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