SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — On Jan. 1, South Orange Village switched water suppliers, leaving behind the oft-criticized East Orange Water Commission and forging ahead with New Jersey American Water.
South Orange entered into a 30-year water sales agreement and 10-year operations and maintenance agreement with American Water, the largest water supplier in the nation. Thanks to the many months of prep work put in by the village and NJAW, there were no issues with the switchover. That prep work included the construction of more than 6,000 linear feet of transmission main and a new pumping station at the village’s DPW facility on Walton Avenue, and converting customer data into the new customer service platform.
NJAW now operates the village’s 4,750 customer connections, 60 miles of water main, 600 hydrants, 3,000 valves, three storage tanks and one water supply well, according to a press release from NJAW.
Village leadership is excited about the change, viewing it as a positive step for South Orange.
“South Orange expects that our new partnership with NJAW, both as the supplier of our water and as the operator of our water system, will produce higher quality drinking water and better customer service for our residents,” village President Sheena Collum told the News-Record. “American Water is one of the largest water companies in the world and has an unparalleled reputation in the field. NJAW’s experience and expertise will allow us to address critical, long neglected needs in our water infrastructure, while delivering clean, safe, potable water to our residents. Moreover, we are confident that American Water’s long history and demonstrated expertise in the water industry will provide us with the guidance and support to allow us to manage our water utility in a fiscally and operationally sound manner.”
“This partnership we have formed with American Water, a well-respected water solutions provider for millions of people nationwide, will ensure the village is well-positioned to provide life’s most essential resource to our residents,” South Orange Trustee Howard Levison said in the press release.
“Today marks a new beginning for water supply in the village as we start to make much needed improvements to ensure the long-term viability of our water system for our residents,” Trustee Walter Clarke said in the release.
And NJAW is just as pleased to be working with South Orange.
“American Water is grateful for the opportunity to serve the village and looks forward to utilizing our expertise in delivering clean, safe, reliable water to the more than 17,000 residents of South Orange, and we hope to continue to build on the strong partnership developed with the village administration,” Thomas Shroba, senior director of operations for NJAW’s north division, told the News-Record.
Due to the prep work, there were no reported outages or flow problems during the switch. According to NJAW, the only perceivable difference should be better and more reliable water.
“The residents should expect water quality that meets regulatory standards, reliable water service, strong customer support and prompt response to their emergency issues,” Shroba said.
Collum agreed with Shroba’s analysis, adding, “The most significant changes residents should expect will be somewhat softer water and a superior customer experience. Billing rates will remain the same, so residents can expect to pay the same amount, with future increases expected to be better controlled and limited.
“As a part of the transitions, customers either just received or will soon receive ‘final’ bills from EOWC for water used through the end of December 2016, which they should pay to EOWC.
“In the future, customers will receive bills directly from the South Orange Water Utility and there are new payment instructions, both for mailed and online payments,” Collum continued. “Specifically, there are new addresses, and residents who use online bill pay through their banks will need to set up new addresses.”
South Orange began searching for a new water provider in light of scandals and water-quality issues at the EOWC, in addition the EOWC contract which was set to expire Dec. 31, 2016. More than once, testing of EOWC water in South Orange showed high levels of tetrachloroethylene, prompting the village to begin testing the water itself. Later tests found perfluorooctanoic acid in the village’s water. While neither of the chemicals were at levels that would cause damage to those drinking it, they were still higher than deemed permissible.
In 2013, two top EOWC officials were indicted for falsifying test results. One died before trial and the other was found guilty of tampering with data.
“While South Orange and the EOWC have certainly had their differences over the years, and the EOWC has certainly had its challenges, we would like to recognize the improvements and efforts of the new EOWC leadership that took over in the past couple of years who helped to make this transition as smooth as possible,” Collum said. “As a fellow local government entity, we wish EOWC and their new leadership well in the future.”
In light of the issues with EOWC, the choice to go with American Water came after the village conducted several meetings, public information sessions and research projects, and concluded that NJAW was the best choice for South Orange.
“The village leaders walked through a very thoughtful and deliberate process to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to secure a long-term water supply for their residents,” Shroba said. “Ultimately, they decided that their community would best be served by partnering with American Water and entered into a long-term water sales agreement and an operations and maintenance agreement for the day-to-day activities required to provide quality service to customers.”
Residents may call NJAW’s customer service center at 1-855-722-7072 if they have any questions or service issues.