September 09, 2019

NJPD-UC Calls for Legislative Hearings Into Elizabeth Water Crisis.

Communication from Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage to City Council shows that American-Liberty Water advised Elizabeth to turn off the water from Newark Water System in wake of Newark water crisis; public not notified.

Elizabeth, NJ — Monday, September 9, 2019 — New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County call on the New Jersey State Legislature to convene public hearings into whether American-Liberty Water and/or the Bollwage administration actively suppressed information that would have potentially allowed members of the public to protect their health and welfare.

Sources close to Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage provided a letter to a member of New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County (NJPD-UC). The letter, dated September 3, 2019, and sent by Bollwage to the members of the Elizabeth City Council, was in regard to the water system.

On December 3, 2018, The New York Times published an article (one of the first media outlets to break this story) discussing the blending of the waters between the Pequannock and Wanaque systems within Newark and how that compromised corrosion controls. In January, in the wake of that article, American-Liberty Water recommended to Bollwage and his administration that the water between Newark and Elizabeth be completely shut off.

In the letter to City Councilors, Bollwage states, “In January 2019, the City of Elizabeth received a recommendation from Liberty Water to perform a trial, where the supply of water from the City of Newark would be completely shut off. However, when the water was completely shut off from the City of Newark, complaints of low water pressure throughout the community were received and consumer demands could not be effectively met.”[1]

Per a conversation with officials at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ-DEP), they received an application, filed within the first week of January 2019, notifying NJ-DEP of American-Liberty Water’s partial shut off of the Sherman Ave. interconnection between Newark and Elizabeth. With the partial shut off of this interconnection, Elizabeth would be estimated to receive about 10% of its water from the Newark system. Current records available to NJ-DEP at this time are not updated and do not reflect these estimates.

Records obtained under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), made to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ-DEP), show Elizabeth has received an average of approximately forty percent of its water from Newark.[2] This is further confirmed by a review of the contract documents between the City of Elizabeth and the City of Newark for water delivery. This figure was confirmed in a phone conversation with an NJ-DEP employee.[3]

Multiple experts at governmental offices and universities, contacted by members of NJPD-UC, stated concern for the ongoing safety of the Elizabeth water system’s infrastructure if it were receiving an average of forty percent of its water from the Newark system.[4]

The Bollwage letter continues, “Liberty Water routinely tests and monitors the drinking water.... As a result of this monitoring, the City of Elizabeth was made aware of degrading water quality from the City of Newark’s Water supply.”

When asked, the NJ-DEP stated it had no records as to why the interconnection between Newark and Elizabeth was shut off as no reason is required to be submitted when water systems file applications for such a change.

The question remains; why, in the wake of the Newark water crisis, and with Elizabeth receiving up to forty percent of its water from Newark, did American-Liberty Water recommend to the Bollwage administration to turn off the water from Newark?

“The timing is interesting,” says Danielle Fienberg, a founding member of NJPD-UC, “Why then? Why, after it becomes widely known that Wanaque and Pequannock waters are mixing, does American-Liberty Water all of a sudden recommend turning off the supply from Newark to Elizabeth? Probably because their water engineers know the same basics that the EPA experts I’ve spoken with know: With the severity of the issues in Newark, we were getting too much water from Newark for it not to be a very real threat to Elizabeth’s water system—let alone it’s residents.”

In his letter to City Council, Bollwage says that “Liberty Water has advised that testing water in stagnate and/or non-active pipes may result in abnormal readings which may not represent accurate results for locations and surrounding areas.”

This is in direct conflict with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) (40 CFR 141(b); 56 FR 26548, June 7, 1991) rule for testing which states, “All tap samples for lead and copper … shall be first-draw samples[,] ... shall be one liter in volume and have stood motionless [i.e. stagnant] in the plumbing system of each sampling site for at least six hours,” among other requirements.[5]

The disparity between the EPA regulation for sampling and the statement Bollwage attributes to American-Liberty Water raises serious questions about the efficacy and integrity of the LCR testing protocols in place in Elizabeth.

“I want to know what American-Liberty Water said to the Bollwage administration,” says Jonathan Gibson, another founding member of NJPD-UC, “I also want to know, if the water was shut off as a result of the Newark water crisis, and as the letter Mayor Bollwage sent to City Council directly states with the words ‘degrading water quality,’ why the public was not notified that there was potentially that level of concern. In short, if both American-Liberty Water and City Hall were so concerned that they shut off the water, where was their concern for the public consuming this water? I want to know who knew, what did they know, when did they know it, and why weren’t we told.”


New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County (NJPD-UC) is a New Jersey non-profit organization which advocates for a progressive policy agenda and for transparency and ethics in government.

For more information, press only:

Jonathan Lee Gibson
Founding Member, NJPD-UC

Danielle Fienberg
Founding Member, NJPD-UC

For more information on New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County:

Phone: 908.490.6369


[1] September 3, 2019 letter from Mayor J. Christian Bollwage to Elizabeth City Council.

[2] System Source Capacity and System Description for PWSID # 2004001 provided under NJDEP OPRA # 251769.

[3] Personal phone conversation with NJ-DEP employee, recording, and transcript available.

[4] Personal phone conversation with US Environmental Protection Agency officials from EPA Districts 2 & 5. Personal phone conversation with Upmanu Lall, Alan & Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering, Columbia University, Chair, Dept. of Earth & Environmental Engineering, Director, Columbia Water Center, Senior Research Scientist, International Research Institute for Climate & Society

[5] 20 CFR 141.86(b)

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