What to Know
- A judge in Newark has denied a group’s request that the city expand its program to receive free bottled water
- Amid the lead crisis in the city, an environmental group sued demanding residents not in the directly impacted area get bottled water too
- The judge agreed with the city, which has maintained that it tested other city sections' water and they did not have dangerous lead levels
A judge in Newark has denied a group’s request that the city expand its program to provide free bottled water beyond those already receiving the service.
Amid the lead crisis that has been afflicting the city for weeks, an environmental group sued Newark demanding that even those not in the designated area with higher lead levels in the tap water should have access to bottled water.
The city has been providing thousands of residents who live in the western half of Newark with bottled water, but the National Resources Defense Council said the government should also be giving the same treatment to those on the east side — especially those who are pregnant or have young children. City leaders say they are not obligated to offer the free bottled water to other sections of Newark because they tested the water and the lead levels were not dangerous.
Many residents disagreed with the controversial ruling. “Everybody should have a right as a human being to drink clean, safe water,” said William McCoy, whose sentiments echoed another man’s after the hearing who said he will still buy bottled water rather than use tap water.
Most Newark residents impacted by the lead — and those who weren’t directly affected — agree that the main issue has been communication from the city.
I think what most people want is official notice individually,” said Ricard Pierre. “Somebody come to your house or a letter like ‘Hey listen, this doesn’t affect your area.”
The judge's ruling comes days after elected officials in Newark announced a multi-million dollar program to put an end to the city's lead crisis earlier in the week.
Gov. Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Essex County officials made the announcement to accelerate a permanent remedy for the water issue that has been impacting thousands of residents.
Newark is estimating it will take upwards of 10 years to replace thousands of lead service lines, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. said Monday during a press conference.
"I don't want to wait that long. I want this long-term solution to happen sooner rather than later," he said, adding that he has been meeting with city officials over the past week and have subsequently agreed on a partnership -- a low-interest bond.
"The mayor and I have been meeting and we are proud to announce a partnership in which the Essex County Improvement Authority will lend the City of Newark $120 million that the city can use only for their pipe replacement program," DiVincenzo said.
County officials say this agreement will allow Newark to "ramp up" its pipe replacement program and reduce the amount of time it will take to complete it to 24 to 30 months instead of a decade. Since March, nearly 800 lead service lines have been replaced, but thousands still remain.
During the press conference, Baraka said the new investment is at no cost to the impacted homeowners.
The long-term plan to fix lead levels in the water is to put $120 million towards replacing the lead pipes for about 14,000 of households served by the Pequannockwater filtration plant, NJ.com first reported.
"The only permanent solution to eliminate the risks of lead is to replace every remaining lead service line in our city — and we are going to do so quickly and at no cost to residents," Baraka said after the ruling came down Friday evening.
"It goes without saying that this is a situation that none of us welcomed," Murphy said, adding that officials must continue to work at the local, state and federal level to address the water issue Newark has been facing as soon as possible.
"Our short-term focus continues to be, as the mayor said, on vigilantly testing the water so we can fully understand the extent of the challenge and on ensuring residents access to clean water," Murphy said.