WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Newark Gets Water Utility Back
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A controversial non-profit that runs the City of Newark's vast water supply system is being disbanded after several investigations raised questions about mismanagement of the agency. The utility will now revert back to the City's control.
After failing to create a new independent authority to run Newark's water supply, Mayor Cory Booker says he is pleased the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corporation is closing. Now, the city will have direct control and can upgrade the century-old system, Booker said.
"A third of our water that we pump and treat is lost to leaks," Booker said. "Everybody has just kicked the can down the road."Now that it is in-house we can start working much more aggressively on dealing with these issues," Booker said.
The NWCDC is currently under investigation by the New Jersey's tate Comptroller's office after media reports that the non-profit was paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to politically-connected lawyers and consultants. The non-profit has been in a pitched battle with the City Council over fiscal accountability issues.
With the utility now returning to municipal control there will be more transparency, said City Councilman Ras Baraka, who opposed Booker's earlier plan to create a non-profit authority to manage Newark's water system.
"Now there is a lot of work for the City to do just assessing the resources we still have there, the employees that were there -- how do we bring the department back in. it is excellent news for me," Baraka said.
The City will now have to pick up the cost of operating the utility, officials say.
Newark supplies water to half million people in several municipalities. Officials say the aging system needs a half-billion dollars in upgrades to ensure the system meets increasingly more stringent Federal drinking water standards.