Water study: City could be 2 million gallons short

Rahway can generate six million gallons of water per day but could come up two million gallons short, according to a recent study. The shortage doesn’t mean your faucets are in danger of running dry but it is likely to impact your wallet.

The water allocation study was driven by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations and requirements that spell out how much the system should be able to put out, according to City Engineer James Housten. The plant can produce what’s needed by the city, it’s a matter of satisfying state requirements, he said, emphasizing that there’s never a danger that the city does not have water or access to it.

There are limits on how much water can be taken out of the Rahway River at certain times, for instance, in the summer when flow in the river is lower. Other times, like heavy snow days, more water is needed to dilute the amount of salt used during snow removal, which eventually makes its way into the system.

In the case of shortfalls, water can be purchased from other companies to make up the difference. There are three interconnections: one with Middlesex Water and two with New Jersey-American which were used when the plant was down during recent storms like Sandy and Irene, according to Housten.

Housten told the Redevelpment Agency earlier this month that he’s been meeting weekly with United Water since April and last week met with DEP to present a a proposal for the capacity issue. There are a realistic number of ideas, he said, and expects several options could be presented to City Council at its June meeting.

Some redevelopment projects in the pipeline are not in jeopardy, according to Executive Director Peter Pelissier, but if the city takes no action, there could be a moratorium on projects of 8,000 gallons or more. If the city does not take action, it could affect future projects proposed, such as the former Wheatena site or the Slokker project near Lot B, he said during the Redevelopment Agency meeting in April.

Meridia Water’s Edge

Three projects in the works already have water permits: Meridia Lafayette Village at Main and Monroe streets; Meridia Water’s Edge behind the library, and Metro Rahway (formerly Station Place) on Campbell Street between Elm Avenue and West Cherry Street.

The 100-year-old water treatment plant on Westfield Avenue is in need of improvements — “it’s like walking into a museum.” Three or four years ago, the project was estimated to cost $12 to $13 million, Housten said at a recent Redevelopment Agency meeting. Designs could cost between $700,000 and $800,000 while the entire project could cost as much as $15 million, according to Pelissier.

In the short term, the city could enter into a contract with other firms like Middlesex Water or New Jersey-American Water to make up the two-million gallon shortfall, however, that could cost $10,000 per day. Another option would be to make two closed-down wells operational, which might cost about $1 million. Pelissier said the City Council just added 15 percent in water rates while debt service on $15 million would be about $675,000 annually.

The replacement of certain hardware could recycle some water currently going to the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority (RVSA), which would reduce the city’s sewage treatment costs, Housten said at the May Redevelopment Agency meeting.

In the late 1990s, Rahway entered into a 20-year lease agreement with United Water to take over operations of the water utility. Capital improvements, however, are still the responsibility of the city. Former Mayor James Kennedy estimated the water company saved the city some $1.3 million annually over the past 12 years, according to this report. United Water also runs water systems in Hoboken and Jersey City, among other towns, and may soon run the system in Allendale.