Public or private? Making the right decisions
A comparative study that compared various management alternatives is helping one New Jersey city give new life to its deteriorating water system.
The Camden County, N.J., water system is not exactly what could be called state-of-the-art. Seventy-five percent of its distribution system is comprised of cast iron pipe which was installed more than 60 years ago and has been little maintained since. Additionally, the city must locate and seat approximately 200 wells throughout its system. However, both the distribution system and the wellfields are poorly mapped – if they are mapped at all.
Then, there are the financial problems. With no shutoff program, Camden collects only about 70 percent of its water billings, far below the industry goal of at least 95 percent. The city holds approximately $2.4 million worth of liens on properties of customers who have not paid water bills, one-third of its annual total. To compound the problem, the city’s water utility recently lost its largest customer, an adjacent private water company, as soon as the company’s new water treatment plant became operational.
Camden owns and operates its water supply, treatment and distribution system, which serves an estimated residential population of 54,100 residents, as well as industrial, institutional and commercial water users.
The service area covers the city, excluding the areas of East Camden and Cramer Hill, and totals approximately 13,400 service connections. The system includes a number of groundwater wells, three treatment plants, pumping stations, transmission. and distribution systems (comprised of more than 150 miles of pipeline) and ground-level and elevated storage.
The Department of Utilities, which is responsible for the city’s water supply, treatment and distribution as well as the sewer collection system, faces both operational and financial difficulties.
The three water treatment plants that serve the city’s residents are all classified as groundwater under the influence of surface water.
One wellfield, the Puchack, contains high levels of chromium and is seldom used. The Parkside groundwater source is contaminated with volatile organic compounds.