Clifton Residents Must Have Water Lines Inspected for Lead
During the 6:30 pm work session portion of the City Council meeting on March 7, Jim Mueller, Executive Director of Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC), presented the PVWC’s new organization chart, mission, and plans for moving forward. Mueller took over as Executive Director last February and is now in his 13th month in this position. Ms. Lendel Jones is the newly appointed Communications Director and the first Black woman hired as a director on the PVWC. With Jones’ appointment, all key positions in the commission are now filled.
The PVWC has been working on a strategic plan for the last four or five months. Their mission is to “Safely and efficiently maintain and distribute a secure and sustainable supply of high-quality drinking water as public stewards of health and safety, community well-being and economic growth for existing and future generations.” Mueller talked about striving always for excellence and the importance of continual growth.
Speaking to the most common water complaints in Clifton, Mueller noted that most of the pipes in Clifton are made of cast iron, which is the root of many of the issues. Cast iron is prone to tuberculation, which is the development or formation of small mounds of corrosion products (rust) on the inside of iron pipe. These pipes are susceptible to certain issues, including water flow and discoloration. Most of our pipes are pre-WWII when Clifton was starting to build out. Because the city was built in sections, the pipes too are laid out in a modular way, resulting in dead-end loops that do not connect to the rest of the city’s infrastructure. Mueller stated that our water is high-quality, meeting or exceeding all standards, but our pipes are not.
PVWC has been engaged in some short-term actions to start addressing issues immediately but the real and permanent fixes are a decade-long project. PVWC recorded approximately 40 water quality inquiries from Clifton residents since January 2023. There are a lot of reasons for water discoloration, he said - a fire in the area, problem areas in the pipes, water main breaks which are common with weather volatility, and failing valves (some of which are very old).
Targeted flushing areas: certain areas of the city require more frequent flushing because they are tougher areas due to the way the pipes lay. Those areas include Bogert Place, East 6th Street, Mountainview Drive, Tacin Lane & Chittendon Road, Green Tree Road & Breeman Road, Delawanna Avenue, and Priscilla Street. Residents in those treated areas are reporting clear water now and PVWC will revisit in several months to repeat the flushing process.
Systematic flushing of the whole area started in October 2022 and will pick up again in in April with Paterson, returning back to Clifton sometime over the summer.
Long-term Solution: there are several professional engineering services working with PVWC to evaluate the water main distribution system. They will assess existing data, coordinate with each city and all utility companies, evaluate alternatives to improve the existing system, develop a prioritized, phased plan for pipe lining and replacement, and finally support the design of the first phase of work.
Work is starting this month with contracts and the start of data collection. In April-May, we should see initial coordination with utilities companies and partner cities. PVWC is planning a Community Meeting with a status update for June 2023.
PVWC is working with our fire and police departments to make sure that hydrants are replaced when needed, flow tests are completed, and contractors are prevented from unauthorized use.
Lead pipe replacement: Mueller updated the council on lead service line replacements, a state requirement due to legislation signed in 2021. Exposure to lead is harmful and can lead to damage to the brain, resulting in high blood pressure, confusion, headaches, mood disorders, and other symptoms. It is extremely important that all residents cooperate with PVWC to have their pipes inspected if they have been flagged as needing attention and, if needed, replaced with new copper pipes.
To date, only 8% of affected Clifton homes have had this work completed. 68% of all attempts have ended in refused access to inspectors. Inspection is a necessary initial step when the pipe material is unknown to PVWC. Legislation requires that all lead lines be replaced by 2031 and PVWC is offering this service at no additional cost to homeowners. You can check the status of your home’s water line HERE. To increase the number of homes in compliance, Mueller said that some initial inspections can now be performed virtually. To access this option, click on the interactive map and zoom in on your address. If your property is marked with a red or a gray dot, clicking on the dot will bring up the Service Line Photo Upload Tool on the left side. This tool is only visible for properties whose service lines are of unknown material.
Water shut-offs: PVWC resumed delinquency shut-offs in August 2022 following New Jersey’s moratorium on them. Mueller stressed that PVWC does not want to turn anyone’s water off but when accounts are left delinquent, that is the only recourse they have. If you need financial assistance, The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) offers programs for low-income households. PVWC also offers no-interest payment plans. Check HERE for payment options and a link to apply for assistance.
Contact information for PVWC:
Following Mueller’s presentation, Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula asked a question on behalf of a resident regarding communications from PVWC. The resident wanted to know why PVWC isn’t using some sort of geolocation technology to alert the community to specific areas of impact when there is an issue. Mueller said that PVWC is looking to start up their own internal system and will use Clifton’s existing Reverse 911 to get contact phone numbers. Sadrakula also questioned why Clifton has so many problems when Passaic is also an old city, referencing Mueller’s earlier comment about the age of Clifton’s infrastructure. Clifton has a lot of dead-end loops, relative to Passaic, said Mueller and he shared a map comparing images of the two cities’ water pipe infrastructure. The modular way the water system was designed in Clifton is causing problems that Passaic does not have to the same degree.
Councilwoman Lauren Murphy asked about the bleach smell the water sometimes has. Mueller said that it indicates that the water is clean and could be a reflection of the increased flushing. “All samples we took were well within compliance levels,” he assured her.
Councilman Antonio (Tony) Latona repeated a previously stated concern about digging up the same streets multiple times and asked for coordination between PVWC and other utilities to prevent that. Mueller said that there are meetings in the works to coordinate and plan for just this reason. Latona also asked that no work be done on the streets in front of schools in the week that schools are reopening in the fall. This is always a particularly difficult time with parents learning new routes and navigating new parking situations; adding in roadwork is disruptive to an already-hectic situation.
Sadrakula asked where the appointees to the Civil Rights Committee came from since some are at large while others are from specific neighborhoods, as per the ordinance. The ordinance does not reference any at-large appointments, she said. Municipal Attorney Matthew Priore clarified that they aren’t actually at large; they are being approved to fill in spots where there are missing applicants. Sadrakula suggested that the positions be held open while the city continues to look for people to cover all neighborhoods and Councilwoman Rosemary Pino disagreed, pointing out the long delay in getting the committee up and running and not wanting to further postpone the initial meeting. Pino echoed Priore, saying that in areas with extra applicants, those additional volunteers were being assigned to sections of town that had no applicants to cover those spots. If new applicants come in from the previously unrepresented areas, the at-large members would be moved to a “stand-by” position.
Sadrakula asked to table the approval of the committee while a search for more applicants continued but nobody seconded it. All councilors but Sadrakula voted yes to appoint the applicants to the committee.
City Manager Nick Villano gave an update on Main Memorial Library, which has been on limited browsing hours for months due to a needed boiler replacement and delays caused by supply chain issues. The new boiler is now in place and operational and the library is expected to resume normal hours on March 13.
The Civil Rights Committee will have its first meeting on Thursday, March 16 @5:30. Invitations will be sent out to all appointees and a Zoom link will be provided for anyone who cannot attend in person.
Vegetative waste pickup will resume on March 22nd and will continue on Wednesdays for the entire city. Organic waste (grass clippings, leaves, weeds) must be placed on the curb in an open container or in biodegradable brown bags, according to the 2023 Recycling Guide.
Mayor Grabowski thanked Janet Lapczynski from the DPW, whose work on the Beautification Committee resulted in a $49,000 grant to the city for the purchase of approximately 200 trees that will be planted throughout Clifton. Continuing the topic of making the city more attractive, Grabowski asked the community to please pitch in and to “pick up litter when you see it.” If everyone did this, he said, we would be able to keep the community cleaner and nicer.
Before breaking for a closed session to discuss confidential items, Nick Villano said that the new city calendar is now up but he isn’t happy with the way it’s currently displayed and wants to put it in a more prominent spot on the city website. The calendar displays an entire month at a time, similar to the one the Board of Education maintains, and includes dates for municipal meetings, events sponsored by various city departments, flag raisings, etc. The calendar does not yet display Recreation Department events, although they are listed as a viewing option.
The next City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 21 at Clifton City Hall, 900 Clifton Avenue. Workshop Meetings will be held at 6:30 PM in Conference Room 101 and Regular Meetings will be held at 8:00 PM in the Municipal Court.
For updates, subscribe to our free newsletter!
Thank you for this article. I now know that my water service lines are not lead!