By Michele S. Byers
If you looked for a list of the least exciting words in the English language, “infrastructure” would be near the top. Those four syllables can cure insomnia instantly.
But a new report on our state’s infrastructure, released on Earth Day, is an eye-opener and a wake-up call.
The report, “Facing Our Future: Infrastructure Investments Necessary for Economic Success,” describes how three of New Jersey’s crucial systems – water, electricity and transportation – are crumbling due to age and lack of attention.
A healthy economy needs clean drinking water, reliable power, good public transportation and safe roads and bridges. Super Storm Sandy delivered a harsh lesson in how lives and businesses are disrupted when these systems break down.
“Our infrastructure has failed when communities lose power for hours or even days following cold, water or wind,” the report said. “Our infrastructure has failed when roads are pitted with potholes and when road congestion causes another missed dinner, softball game or recital, or extra hours in transit. Our infrastructure has failed when sewage bubbles up into the streets after a hard rain.”
Written by a bipartisan volunteer panel of former New Jersey government officials, the report cites the need for $70 billion to repair and modernize these infrastructure systems to avoid a repeat of the chaos and economic paralysis seen after Sandy.
This investment is crucial to our economic future. Either we pay now … or pay far more later.
While many of the report’s recommendations address “brick and mortar” – repairing and replacing asphalt, concrete, wires, pipelines and machinery – the report recognizes the important role of open-space preservation.
Open space includes parks for people and habitat for wild animals and plants – but it also provides a huge economic boost to the state by reducing the need for man-made water infrastructure.
For example, forested natural areas and open spaces act as giant sponges that capture, hold and gradually release rainwater into reservoirs. They also act as filters that help cleanse the water for drinking. “As a result, capital costs for filtration and treatment of drinking water are lowered,” the report said.
The same natural lands that hold and filter rainwater also prevent flooding and soil erosion during storms.
According to the report, New Jersey’s ability to remain economically competitive and provide reliable water supplies requires the purchase of lands that will maximize the natural protection of watersheds, and manage stormwater in developed areas.
Open-space preservation, the report said, “requires at least $250 million over the next five years for the protection of watershed lands, which also supports stormwater management needs.” This level of investment, it notes, is consistent with recent studies by the NJ Keep It Green Coalition and other industry experts.
What the report didn’t say is that New Jersey is out of funding to preserve our open spaces. A $400 million bond issue approved by voters in 2009 has been spent or allocated, and the preservation pipeline has run dry. To continue to preserve critical lands in this state we’re in, we need a dedicated, long-term source of land funding.
To read “Facing our Future,” go to www.facingourfuture.org. The website contains both the full 43-page report and an executive summary. For more information about efforts to create a long-term source of preservation funding, visit the NJ Keep It Green website at www.njkeepitgreen.org and sign the sustainable funding pledge of support.
And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.