2024-03-15 14:00Blog post

Building Resilience: New Jersey American Water’s Approach to Stormwater Flooding Solutions

Stormwater Management

Mark McDonough
New Jersey American Water

As climate change brings more intense rainstorms and flooding to New Jersey, dealing with stormwater is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. Earlier this month, alongside other industry experts, I joined NJ Spotlight for their latest Virtual Roundtable Series, New Jersey’s Climate Future: The Science, Politics & Planning to discuss Storm Flooding. We talked about the evolution, impacts and policy solutions to mitigate this rising threat — and how New Jersey American Water is making a difference as the state's largest water and wastewater utility on the frontlines of flooding impact.

Our environmental commitments are central to our role as a water and wastewater operator. As New Jersey American Water continues our efforts and investments to protect the nature of water across our footprint, we are increasingly focused on how recapitalization of systems and proper investments into existing water and sewer infrastructure mitigate the stresses of flooding.

Recent storms like Ida have underscored the vulnerabilities flooding presents to water infrastructure, quality and resiliency. When treatment plants flood or stormwater infiltrates pipe systems, it can compromise drinking water safety and lead to service disruptions. New Jersey American Water has taken a proactive approach, incorporating climate variability and resiliency through hardening of assets, like flood protection, diversification of fuel and power sources and investment in backup generation.

For example, the upgrades we have made to our Raritan Millstone Water Treatment Plant in the last 20 years underscore the historic intensity of the threat we’re facing. Following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, a 44-foot flood wall was constructed to protect the facility’s operations. Then, after Hurricane Irene came within one inch of the flood wall in 2011, flood walls were raised from 44 to 48 feet high, raising the level of protection from a 100-year flood frequency to a 500-year flood frequency. As this video shows, this extra protection then prevented yet another breach during Tropical Storm Ida in 2021.

In other words: within the span of less than 10 years, infrastructure built to protect against 500-year storm events was needed twice at Raritan Millstone to safeguard a plant that serves one million central New Jersey residents from what would be more than a significant service interruption.

In addition to fortifying our physical assets, New Jersey American Water is using advanced technologies like smart sensors to reduce stormwater infiltration into sewer systems. A pilot project in Bound Brook used acoustic systems to study the flow of stormwater through manhole covers. These high inflow areas can now be targeted for repairs to lessen the burden on wastewater treatment during storms. We’re looking forward to launching similar sensor monitoring initiatives in Somerville and Manville.

These combined sewer systems do not directly discharge into waterways, but by reducing inflow they alleviate pressure on downstream facilities. Cutting stormwater intrusion also reduces or eliminates harmful manhole overflows that endanger public health and environments. It’s a ripple effect that improves community resilience overall.

Major infrastructure and technological innovations are only part of the solution. Equally important are the ongoing investments New Jersey American Water makes into routine maintenance and replacement of aging pipes, pumps and plants. We invest approximately $500 million annually to keep these critical systems functioning properly. This prevents failures that could be exacerbated during flood events and allows smarter technologies to work most effectively.

We are proud to be ahead of the Water Quality Accountability Act’s (WQAA) recommended pipe replacement schedule of 150 years. New Jersey American Water’s 100-year replacement schedule is also well ahead of the typical municipal-owned system’s replacement schedule of 500-1,000 years.

It is incumbent that investor-owned utilities that have the capital to invest, like New Jersey American Water, step in to rehabilitate aging systems. The state of New Jersey has approximately $1 billion in federal funding to spend on water and wastewater infrastructure funds over the next five years, divided among about two-thirds of the systems statewide. In contrast, New Jersey American Water expects to invest approximately $1.5 billion across its systems, which encompass about one-third of the systems statewide. Navigating the challenge of trying to get infrastructure money is increasingly difficult for small municipalities that lack the funds and the time.

Collaborative solutions and partnerships with cities and towns are what will ultimately help New Jersey withstand climate change and safeguard our water quality. Utilities have essential technical expertise and stewardship duties for critical services, while local governments know the unique needs of their residents. As the impacts of climate change, stormwater flooding and droughts become more commonplace, collaboration between the two will give New Jersey its best chance at resilience.

About American Water

American Water (NYSE: AWK) is the largest regulated water and wastewater utility company in the United States. With a history dating back to 1886, We Keep Life Flowing® by providing safe, clean, reliable and affordable drinking water and wastewater services to more than 14 million people with regulated operations in 14 states and on 18 military installations. American Water’s 6,500 talented professionals leverage their significant expertise and the company’s national size and scale to achieve excellent outcomes for the benefit of customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders. As one of the fastest growing utilities in the U.S., American Water expects to invest $34 to $38 billion in infrastructure repairs and replacement, system resiliency and regulated acquisitions over the next 10 years. The company has a long-standing history of executing its core operations, aligned with sustainable best practices, through its commitments to safety, affordability, customer service, protecting the environment, an inclusive workforce and strengthening communities. American Water has been recognized on the 2023 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for the fifth consecutive year, ranked 18th on Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies 2023 List, earned the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAFETY Act designation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense® Excellence Award, among additional state, local and national recognitions. For more information, visit amwater.com.