An Update Regarding the New Brunswick Water Utility

In order to operate a Water Treatment Plant in the State of New Jersey, the operating entity must have licensed operators commensurate with the type and size of the water system. In New Brunswick’s case, T4 and W4 operators are required for water treatment and water distribution operations, respectively.

With the recent and unexpected loss of both the City Water Utility’s Director and its Water Treatment Plant Superintendent to other employment opportunities, the City no longer has those licensed personnel among its staff as of July 7. Both individuals each held a T4 and a W4 license. The Water Utility was poised to continue significant infrastructure and staff development improvements and was positioned well with not just one, but two individuals holding the highest licenses available at the helm. Unfortunately, with both individuals leaving, the City needed to act quickly to retain the personnel holding the T4 and W4 licenses necessary to operate its water treatment plant.

To obtain the licensed expertise required to run the New Brunswick Water Treatment Plant, the City issued a Request for Proposals on June 11, seeking responses by June 23. The City sought a 12 month period agreement to allow time to seek and employ a new Water Utility Director with both T4 and W4 licenses, and all supporting staff to safely and efficiently operate its treatment plant.

While eight water companies and engineering firms toured the treatment plant following the solicitation of proposals, no viable responses were received. Follow-up with the individuals and entities that toured the City’s facilities revealed they felt there was insufficient time to prepare an informed proposal to undertake the responsibilities and liability of operating a treatment plant with which they were unfamiliar.

Faced with the potential of having to shut down the treatment plant, and either having to lay off existing personnel and/or pay them although no services would be performed, and the need to purchase water provided by a neighboring private utility at rates exceeding the City’s cost to produce its own water, discussions commenced with Middlesex Water Company to determine if they were willing and capable to provide temporary assistance in providing personnel with the necessary licenses. After nearly a week of communication with Middlesex Water and the NJDEP, the best Middlesex Water was in a position to do was to supply a part-time T4 licensed operator and support staff an annualized cost of approximately $2 million. This arrangement would also necessitate the purchase of 4 to 5 million gallons of water per day from Middlesex Water, for which the City would incur an additional expense of $243,000 per month.

Discussions then commenced with American Water, where the City’s former Water Utility Director, Frank Marascia, is now employed. American Water was responsive and felt confident of its capability of operating the City’s treatment plant on short notice due in part to Mr. Marascia’s familiarity and experience with the Utility.

American Water agreed to provide two T4 licensed operators, when combined gives the City better than a full-time equivalent operator needed to keep the plant open and running. Mr. Marascia would be available to the City at least one day a week to provide a seamless transition during an interim period while the parties negotiate a further agreement. This temporary Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the parties on July 2, just four days prior to the last day of T4 coverage by city staff. Click here to view the Memorandum of Understanding.

This allows for the City Treatment Plant to remain fully operational without the need to purchase water from another utility. It also allows for the City to keep all current staff on board and working.

As of July 7, these American Water employees began assisting the Water Utility with day-to-day operations at the plant. As anticipated, all operations are running smoothly with no loss in quality or production.

The MOU provides for a maximum amount to be paid to American Water during this interim period of up to $80,340 per month, when fully staffed. This exceeds the amount previously paid by the City for former staff by approximately $38,000 a month. This difference provides for up to four additional licensed operators of different grades to provide around-the-clock supervision of the treatment process at the plant and additional 24/7 continuous electronic monitoring of the plant through a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. This additional supervision and monitoring, and the resulting cost, was deemed beneficial to ensure safe and proper treatment of the water for all consumers while the new American Water licensed operators gained familiarity with the City’s treatment plant and water supply and system. The need for these additional personnel and services will be evaluated as time goes on. If they are found to be no longer beneficial or necessary, they will be eliminated.

The temporary MOU will span about 45 days and has met the approval of the NJDEP. Any longer arrangement between the City of New Brunswick and American Water will go before the New Brunswick City Council for its review and approval.

The City will continue to own the utility and control all maintenance, capital improvements and construction, purchasing, water distribution, billing, and customer service. All water utility staff will be maintained and will continue to work at their respective roles and locations.

The City will continue with planned capital improvements to its Treatment Plant including the renovation of the gravity filters (the plant also uses a membrane system of filtration), and the upgrade of the City’s two pumping stations, including the installation of new pumps, creating better efficiency within the system. An emergency generator will also be added to the D&R Canal Pump Station. All projects will proceed on schedule.

The City currently maintains the second lowest rate for any utility statewide (just behind Atlantic City) and is committed to continuing its history of providing quality water at the most effective cost. Our current arrangement and plans for the next 12 months provides the best option available given present circumstances to meet these goals.

The first priority going forward is to hire a new Water Utility Director with T4 and W4 licenses. The search and interviews have begun. We will continue to keep our consumers apprised of our progress.

All questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.