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Repairs intended to bring one of six wells into compliance with new state requirements
Mayor James Wysocki and Cong. Josh Gotteimer hold press conference on federal grant
Marsha A. Stoltz, NorthJersey.com
MAHWAH — A year after the township was notified it needed an $800,000 filtration system to meet new state water standards, it learned it would receive a federal grant that covers the entire expense.
“We have great news for the families of Mahwah,” U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer announced at the township’s water tank on Tudor Rose Court on Tuesday. “Working together, we’ve clawed back $800,000 in federal investment from Washington for a new and improved filtration system in Mahwah to help meet the updated state and federal drinking water standards.”
Mayor James Wysocki said he was advised “we would need a filtration system at Well #19” but that the $800,000 price tag would have to be bonded, “with the resident taxpayers footing the bill.” He was advised five months ago that the township was a finalist for the grant, but learned only a week ago that it would be awarded.
“We owe you a very big thank-you,” Wysocki told Gottheimer. “What you have done for our township relieves our residents and taxpayers the burden of paying for this filtration system.”
Council President David May extended his thanks to Gottheimer, saying he hopes they “can continue to find ways to work together for the residents of Mahwah.”
Township and county officials attended the press conference.
A drop in 20 pools
The state Department of Environmental Protection adopted new groundwater quality standards in 2021 for a class of cancer-causing chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.” Municipalities were required to begin monitoring their water systems for the presence of these chemicals in 2022. The standards are the strictest in the nation.
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Mahwah was among 30 North Jersey municipalities notified by the DEP last December that chemicals in their water exceeded the new state standards. In Mahwah’s case, elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, were reported in Well #19, off Fyke Road on the site of a former dump. The new state standard was 0.013 micrograms per liter. Well #19’s levels were 0.016.
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The contamination was equated to “a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized pools” by the township in a notice to residents on Jan. 13, since the water from Well #19 was combined with six other wells before distribution. The township draws 69% of its water from the ground, supplemented with water from Veolia New Jersey, the Hackensack-based successor to Suez/United Water, which serves about 75% of Bergen County.
The January notice emphasized that “this is not an acute contaminant and this is not a do-not-drink order.” The DEP “has not asked the Township to take the well offline.” Additionally, the DEP signaled its relatively low concern by extending Mahwah’s repair deadline from 12 to 18 months.
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Wysocki issued a two-page letter to the township’s 26,380 residents on April 14 continuing to assure them that the water was “safe for you to use and drink.” The contaminant level in Well #19 was down slightly, to 0.015, but there was no announcement the well had been closed.
However, a Dec. 12 handbill titled “Information Regarding Your Water” sent to residents reported that Well #19 had been removed from use as a “temporary measure” until its levels could be brought below state maximums.
“It wasn’t necessary per the DEP,” said Business Administrator Ben Kezmarsky. “But our operator determined it could be taken offline without any disruption to our available water supply.”
Kezmarsky said Boswell Engineering is completing the permitting and design work. The next step will be to go out to bid.
“The monies from the federal government are to pay for the project,” Kezmarsky said. “Boswell originally estimated $800,000, up to $1 million, so this pays for almost if not all of this project without us having to bond.”
Residents have been advised that boiling water will not remove the contaminants, and only filters specifically designed for these chemicals will help. The filtration system was scheduled for installation by August.