Water rate increases on horizon in Edison; current limited manpower, equipment preventing water utility to move forward

PHOTOS BY KATHY CHANG.STAFF

EDISON – With current limited manpower and equipment, the township’s re-established Edison Water Utility has become a reactive department, not a proactive one it kicked off as in January, according to Robert Smith, director of the Edison Water Utility.

“We are doing as much as we can with the staff we have … we just don’t have the manpower to physically do all the work necessary,” he said.

An ordinance to increase the 2020 per gallon water rates the township charges residential and non-residential users for the discharge prompted a discussion about the Edison Water Utility at a Township Council meeting on May 27.

The water rates are proposed to increase .2 cents, from 4.2 cents per gallon to 4.4 cents per gallon of water consumed for metered water users, or $12.81 from $261.45 to $274.26. The rate increase does not affect senior citizens.

The council is expected to vote on the proposed water rate increases at a meeting on June 10.

Council Vice President Sam Joshi said the increase in the water rates were a reflection of the re-established Edison Water Utility. Councilmen Richard Brescher and Ajay Patil expressed concerns about the rate increases. Patil said he would like to see a present systematic plan before any increases are made.

Smith began his role of managing the township’s new water and sewer utility’s day-to-day operation, supervising personnel and overseeing maintenance, in November 2019.

For six weeks, Smith was building the new Edison Water Utility essentially from the ground up. He had been working on building a high quality team of 22 members.

Effective Jan. 1, the utility started to operate and manage the water distribution system previously managed by New Jersey American Water.

Smith said the department has addressed the water and sewer system’s biggest needs in a five-year capital plan, which include connections to the three township pump stations.

“These are probably the worst pump stations I’ve ever had to deal with,” he said.

Edison’s water and sewer infrastructure has not been upgraded in 60 to 70 years and needs to be replaced. In 2019, the township had proposed a $811.3 million new public-private partnership with Suez North America, a Paramus-based water and wastewater company, to see if it was the right fit for the township.

However, public dissent against the proposed partnership led to a petition and a referendum. The Edison Water Utility was re-established following the passage of a referendum in September 2019 which mandated that the public water distribution system be operated and managed by the township.

Smith said since he came on board, 10-15% of 300 miles of water and sewer lines have been televised and cleaned. He said the current skeleton staff of nine members, which includes the supervisor, televises and cleans the lines when they have time.

“We found multiple lines with roots through them and we cut the roots out,” he said, adding a force main could be a major problem to the township in the near future. “We are in dire need to get this sewer system rectified. We have a notice of [a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] civil administration penalty from 2018.”

The township has to also send in monthly reports to the Middlesex County Utility Authority, Smith said.

“If we do not show progress in quarterly reports they will not give us any further treatment, which means they will not assess sewage for industry and commercial buildings [in the township],” he said.

A waste water report was conducted from 2017 into 2018 by Mott MacDonald, an engineering, development, management consultancy firm in South Iselin.

Smith said in response to Patil’s request for a new study, he noted a company like Mott MacDonald would cost more than $1 million. He said he would suggest to conduct a study internally due to the current staffing levels.

Before the impact of the coronavirus, the township and council were moving the water and sewer infrastructure into the 21st century with the approval of three separate contracts through resolutions for Mott MacDonald to provide additional engineering services on March 11.

One resolution authorizes Mott MacDonald to provide additional engineering services in connection with technical updates required for the GIS (Geographic Information System) database supporting the water utility in the amount of $50,000.

A second resolution authorizes Mott MacDonald to develop a SCADA system for the water utility in the amount of $87,800. The township does not have a SCADA system in place.

And the third resolution authorizes Mott MacDonald to connect with necessary calibration and model updates to the Water System Hydraulic Model supporting the water utility in the amount of $66,134.

Patil said he would also like to see the reformation of the Water Advisory Committee, which had been disbanded. The committee had been formed after the referendum, which included township officials, council members and residents.

In 1997, Edison officials entered into a contract with New Jersey American Water to operate and manage the township’s water system in the south end.

In 2017, the township amended the contract, which ended that year, and extended it for two years so options could be considered, including the benefits of private operation of the water and sewer systems.

Municipal officials said New Jersey American Water wanted to buy Edison’s water system, but they were not interested due to loss of control.

In June 2019, New Jersey American Water agreed to extend its contract to operate and provide water service to south Edison until Dec. 31, 2019. The Edison Water Utility began operations on Jan. 1.

For more information visit www.edisonwaterutility.org.