State environmental officials working on plans to overhaul water management rules

Monday November 25, 2002

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) State environmental officials will encourage water transfers, repair and upgrade equipment and seek new ways to ease supply problems as they try to change the way the state manages its water system.

The overhaul, which remains a work in progress, comes despite a slight decline in overall water use in recent years. During the 1990s, water use dropped statewide from just over a trillion gallons a year in 1990 to about 980 billion in 1999.

Despite the decline, which was mostly due to a steady decline in industrial consumption, officials say water usage by the state's growing population has stretched supplies thin in some regions. These supplies were strained even further this year as one of the worst droughts in state history forced officials to impose strict water use restrictions.

To help meet this demand, the state continues to seek new sources of water and, in some cases, will try to revive some old, abandoned sites. For example, officials have asked the Elizabethtown Water Co. to clean some contaminated groundwater in Springfield, which would allow it to pump an additional 4 million to 5 million gallons a day.

``There are areas where groundwater has been written off and areas where it shouldn't be,'' Dennis Hart, the state's drought coordinator, told The Times of Trenton for Monday's editions.

Equipment problems have also caused problems, Hart said. Earlier this year, officials were unable to move as much water as they wanted from the central part of the state to northeastern areas because a pumping station in Newark was in disrepair.

Despite the state's push for water transfers, many utilities remain reluctant to move forward with them because of cost concerns. Officials are seeking new ways to subsidize the transfers, including a proposed sales tax on water that is being considered by state lawmakers.

As it now stands, the legislation would assess a 3-cent tax per 1,000 gallons of water. Besides water transfers, the tax money also would be used to upgrade pumps and pipelines throughout the state.

The state also wants to change how utilities get permits to use more water. Proposals under consideration would require them to provide more documentation when they make such requests, and they also would have to show a viable water source before requesting a larger allocation.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)