The Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority updated the City Council on Nov.  22 on its plan to replace 16,000 water lines in Jersey City that are lined with or made of lead. 

In February the utility had announced plans to replace approximately 1,000 of the lines per year. That work has begun, according to JCMUA executive director Joseph Cunha, who addressed the body along with consultant Kate DePippo. The two updated the council on issues related to the program’s cost, breadth, and financial effect on residents as well. 

While details on the number of replacements made are scarce, JCMUA has said: “Properties for replacement will be prioritized based on factors including but not limited to the targeting of areas with known lead service lines; lead service line replacement for disadvantaged consumers; and populations most sensitive to the effects of lead in accordance with federal regulations.”

Neither Cunha nor DePippo elaborated on this this week nor revealed the specific number of replacements JCUA has made this fall.

The JCMUA mailed advisories in August to those residents with known lead service lines (letters that were supposed to have been mailed beginning in February.) While containing the ominous text, “Our most recent service line inventory indicates that the above address has a lead service line,” the letter reassured the recipients that the city’s water supply “is tested regularly and continues to be in compliance with all state and federal lead levels.” 

Cunha and DePippo also sought to reassure the council concerning the cost of the program overall and concerning liability for individual property owners. Earlier this year, the JCMUA had said the city would finance the project with state and federal funds including low-interest loans and grants and money from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

This past week, DePippo elaborated, projecting the work would cost $288 million by the time it was completed in or around 2031. Nevertheless, DePippo noted, the city was continuing to seek outside public funding.

Newark, New Jersey, completed its lead service line program in February, making them a model for cities like Jersey City, observers have noted. The Brick City had also at one time estimated that replacements would take eight to 10 years. But in September 2019, Essex County provided Newark with a $120 million dollar bond for lead-pipe replacements that allowed  for a quicker turnaround. The cost of the repairs did not affect Newark’s residents.

Cunha could not offer a similar financial guarantee to Jersey City, whose residents may see charges for the repairs on their water bills. But he did say property owners incurring such costs “will be reimbursed for $10,000 up to the entire lead service.”

Cunha also addressed the issue of whether the repair would be mandatory. According to the city’s proposed ordinance governing the project, refusal to provide access enabling the work to get done could result in fines and court action. Cunha said the MUA hoped to provide incentives preventing such non-compliance.

Readers wishing to learn whether their building has lead in its service lines can go to leadfreejc.com. For those whose property is listed as “unknown,” the website notes that “JCMUA will be working over the next several years to identify all lead service lines in the system. The Service Line Inventory will continually be updated as new information becomes available. “

Vincent Maximilliano Onofre

Vincent Onofre is a journalist based in the tri-state area. Raised in Texas, he has found a love for the northeast and New Jersey pizza. His go-to beats include politics and civics, healthcare and education....

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Elizabeth Morrill

Deputy Editor Elizabeth Morrill has worked in business, not for profit fundraising and as a freelance copy editor. She holds degrees in American studies and education from Yale and Harvard.