Supporting Municipalities Amid COVID Budget Cuts

The public-private partnership between the City of Bayonne, NJ and Bayonne Water Joint Venture, an entity that includes SUEZ and private investors managed by Argo Infrastructure Partners LLC, has allowed SUEZ to take the initiative in discovering and resolving critical infrastructure issues that, left unaddressed, could harm the financial health of this city and the physical health of its residents.


The public-private partnership assures that capital will continually be made available to modernize and improve the system in Bayonne.  Such investment allows Bayonne to address the challenges of a 21st century city with ease. The commitment to guaranteeing reliable, safe and clean drinking water has become imperative to attract new business and build a smart city for future generations.  As SUEZ continues to improve infrastructure, the city continues to grow its customer base and expand its economic development program without developing additional sources of supply

Why is Water Runoff a Problem?

As these waters flow they pick up contaminants, such as pesticides, road salt, petrochemicals and animal waste. In rural areas, they also sweep fertilizers into the water, raising nitrogen and phosphate levels to dangerous levels. Stormwater runoff can also remove sediment from riverbanks, harming underwater grasses and shellfish, and causing flooding.

 

Water Quality Impact


Stormwater runoff has the potential to impact water quality by allowing the flow of potential pollutants, such as bacteria, pesticides, metals, and more into water sources like streams, rivers, or lakes. The increased pollutants can have a diminishing effect on water quality.

 

Erosion


Stormwater runoff contributes to the erosion of riverbanks, lakes and coastlines. When sand, silt and clay are swept from the side of lakes and rivers, they are deposited in the water in the form of sediment. Sediment is made up of loose particles of sand, silt and clay.


Sewage Overflow


In approximately 772 cities across the country, stormwater is collected in the same pipes as domestic sewage and industrial wastewater. It’s not a problem much of the time, as the system transports all of this water to a wastewater treatment plant where it is treated and then discharged. But during heavy storms the wastewater volume can overwhelm the system and cause what are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). During CSOs, excess wastewater—containing stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris—is discharged directly to streams, rivers, or other water bodies.


Localized Flooding


Stormwater runoff, if not properly managed, can flood and damage homes and businesses, disrupt traffic, erode stream channels, and damage or destroy fish and wildlife habitat.

 

Economic Impact


Stormwater runoff contaminates surface water sources of drinking water. The more contaminated the source water is, the more treatment is required. Treatment, of course, costs money and that money is eventually passed along to consumers. Communities that rely on water resources for recreation and tourism trade can also be hurt economically if deteriorated water quality results in bans on swimming and other water contact activities.

 

Health Impact


In urban areas, animal waste and fertilizer are the two biggest contributors to excess nutrients in stormwater runoff. Excess nutrients cause algae overgrowths, which may be toxic to humans and pets, as well as reduce water oxygen levels for fish and other aquatic organisms. In addition to animal waste, which is carried to the storm system by stormwater runoff, human waste may enter the stormwater system due to aging and failing infrastructure; backed up sewer lines, known as sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs); and inappropriately maintained septic systems. Human and animal waste contribute bacteria and pathogens to stormwater. In excess, these bacteria and pathogens cause illness and result in closing of swimming areas and impairment of streams that limits other recreational use.
What is Urban Runoff?

Stormwater from city streets and adjacent domestic or commercial properties that carries pollutants into the sewer systems is known as urban runoff. Rapid urbanization, where large swaths of land are paved or hardened to an impervious state, has led to increased volumes of urban runoff across the country and around the world. This means more pollutants are entering our waterways and entering more quickly. According to the U.S. EPA, rapid urbanization and its attendant runoff have degraded water quality and habitat in virtually every urban stream system.

 

Because of impervious surfaces like pavement and rooftops, a typical city block generates more than five times more runoff than a woodland area of the same size.

 

The EPA encourages developers and urban planners to use low-impact development measures that conserve natural area, such as riparian, or riverbank, buffers. For existing urban areas, planners should first seek out opportunities to prevent pollutants from entering runoff streams, the EPA suggests.

What Are The Effects of Urbanization and Runoff?

As impervious surfaces cover more land, stormwater has less opportunity to enter the ground and get soaked up by vegetation. Rather, it gets more quickly to waterways carrying with it unnaturally high levels of organic matter that lead to algae blooms and to eutrophication -- the process in which plant life thrives and animals die, due to a lack of oxygen. 


There are other problems, as well. Storm sewer systems concentrate runoff into smooth, straight conduits, which accelerates as it travels underground – so when it eventually exits storm drains into a stream, the excessive volume and power blast out streambanks, damaging streamside vegetation and wiping out aquatic habitat. Also, these increased storm flows often carry higher water temperatures, for example from paved surfaces and rooftops, that are harmful to the health and reproduction of aquatic life. 


The loss of infiltration from urbanization may also cause profound groundwater changes. Although urbanization leads to great increases in flooding during and immediately after wet weather, in many instances it also results in lower stream flows during dry weather. Many native fish and other aquatic life cannot survive when these conditions prevail.

How best practices were developed and implemented throughout this water concession?
  • In late February 2020, as part of its ongoing asset management and operations and management of Bayonne Water’s wastewater system, SUEZ discovered that the insurance policy covering the underground diesel fuel storage tank was set to expire. SUEZ knew that the city’s insurance premium would skyrocket and was persistent through telephone calls and emails in encouraging the city to take action.
  • At first, the city considered completing the project itself, but eventually understood that SUEZ had the expertise to take on the project and the supply-chain contacts to acquire the right equipment at a good price.
  • SUEZ was able to do this on short notice because of a contract-modification instrument built into SUEZ’ SOLUTION business model. That instrument allowed sufficient capital to be spent without raising consumer rates inordinately.
  • Using enhanced COVID-19 protocols, SUEZ completed the removal of the fiberglass tank and installation of its above-ground replacement.
  • Separately, in September 2019, SUEZ brought to the city’s attention the need to replace and upgrade a mechanical bar screen mechanism used to capture and divert solid debris from entering the stormwater outflow. The device and the electronic controls had corroded, causing an environmental and worker safety hazard.
  • SUEZ began working with a mechanical engineer to design an upgrade, while working to budget for the project. Unlike the tank removal project, this was a larger, more capital-intensive project that alone would meet or exceed the annual $2.5 million allotted CAPEX budget.
  • After an extended dialogue with the City of Bayonne, city officials acknowledge the urgency and importance of the project and included it in the municipal budget. The project has now been put out to bid to subcontractors.

Additional Concession Information
Despite the extensive capital improvements made by Bayonne Water Joint Venture since inception of the public-private partnership, customer tariffs have remained within norms and have increased at about the same pace as national averages (as surveyed by the AWWA).

How much did this project cost?

Diesel fuel tank removal and replacement with an above-the-ground tank: $100,000.
 
Replacement of the stormwater overflow bar screen and electronic controls: $2.7 million (estimated).