Jersey City Together says federal relief funds should be used for running water in every school

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Jersey City Together wants the Jersey City Municipal Utility Authority (JCMUA), with the aid of other agencies, to speed up their schedule to replace lead-contaminated water pipes in the city’s schools using federal relief funds.

Photo via njtogether.com.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The MUA’s next meeting is on July 22nd and Jersey City Together said they will press their case during their public session. While the MUA did not directly receive American Rescue Plan dollars, the city and board of education did.

“We as a community value the safety of our students, our children, and the staff. We value water, and we are getting this work done this year,” said Jim Nelson, an activist with Jersey City Together whose child attends the Infinity Institute in Jersey City.

He explained that the issue was brought to light in 2008 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted an excessive amount of lead in the water, which led the school fountains to be shut off district-wide.

He said hydration issues affect the behavior of students and their learning potential.

Nelson recalled that the BOE entered a formal partnership with the MUA to address the situation at the end of 2019.

“To their credit, they have turned the page in the last couple of years towards finding a sustainable solution to provide safe drinking water for all children and staff in the schools,” Nelson said regarding the board of education.

He explained that jugs of water have been delivered to the schools in the interim, but are difficult for custodians to maintain. Along with personal water bottles, they create a lot of plastic which is not environmentally friendly.

In addition, he noted that in at least one instance, the schools did not receive their water jug shipments due to a vendor issue.

Nelson explained that the remediation process has been slow up to this point since some schools required extensive repairs.

However, he did praise the work done by the contractor, Guarini Plumbing, in making progress on the issue, a sentiment that has been shared by school staff.

He also praised the MUA “as a good-faith partner replacing city service lines, but also expanding the number of fountains in the schools,” further stating that they will expand the number of drinking fountains from 15 to about 40 in Dickinson High School.

“We are grateful that by the time school is reopened, about 29 percent of our students will have access to sustainably accessed drinking water,” Nelson said.

He noted that based on school enrollment, 71 percent of all students in the district will still have to rely on bottled water.

Many of the schools and the school administrative buildings have been able to produce safe drinking water with filters as a temporary measure.

He noted that in preliminary talks, the MUA is open to speeding up they schedule, provided they receives the funds to do so.

“Safe drinking water is a basic human right for our children, and Jersey City is blessed to have good infrastructure and a municipal authority that’s aggressively working to update our infrastructure,” Nelson said.

This week, Jersey City Together launched a call to action on their website that allows residents to send a emailed call to action to the MUA, BOE, and city council.

“I am writing today to urge you to make sure every Jersey City Public School has safe, running, drinkable water by the end of 2021. We’ve had decades of delay and finger pointing, but sustainable, permanent access to working water fountains can and must be prioritized now,” the email template says.

“We know the money is available now through federal and other dollars. We need leadership from the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA), the City, and the BOE to ensure all the remaining schools are lead-remediated and equipped with working water fountains by the end of 2021. It’s the 21st Century. We can and must make this happen now. Thank you!”

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