Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority Commits to Local Revitalization Through Partnerships
The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), situated in one of the most economically and environmentally distressed communities in the country, is turning challenges into opportunities throughout New Jersey. Following the leadership of CCMUA, local government agencies, federal programs, as well as nonprofit and community-based organizations are committed to improving the city’s environmental and economic conditions. CCMUA is a proven leader in climate adaptation, green infrastructure practices, and community revitalization.
Camden’s industrial past has left the city with hundreds of contaminated sites, businesses and industries tightly bordering residential areas, a declining population, and aging infrastructure. Low household income and educational attainment levels coupled with high poverty, unemployment, and crime rates most negatively impact Camden’s population of majority-nonwhite residents, women, and children. In the face of these significant systemic challenges, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority is an inspiring example of how utilities can effectively partner with diverse stakeholders to achieve multiple goals for everyone in the communities that they serve. For example, the City of Camden and CCMUA work under a shared services agreement, which allows both entities to optimize resources to better operate and maintain Camden’s water and sewer systems. The city recognizes that its overall prosperity is directly dependent on its environmental and socioeconomic health, which is why CCMUA has partnered with the city to invest in triple bottom line sustainability strategies that prioritize solutions like green infrastructure. This peer collaboration demonstrates how a utility can partner with other municipal agencies to maximize limited resources to achieve multiple benefits for the community.
Through the CCI, the City of Camden has more than 50 green infrastructure projects which divert, capture, and manage over 63 million gallons of stormwater annually that would have otherwise entered the City’s aging and overtaxed combined sewer system.
Projects in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood showcase CCMUA’s triple bottom line sustainability projects in action. The neighborhood’s primarily African American and Hispanic populations face brownfields, Superfund sites, and heavy industrial operations located very close to residences. CCMUA committed to becoming a good neighbor by directly engaging with the community. Specifically, the utility prioritized addressing the foul odors associated with the wastewater treatment plant. Beginning with a $50-million investment in odor control and the development of agency-wide Environmental Management System, CCMUA used funding from an Open Space grant from the county to purchase abandoned industrial property and turned it into a riverfront park. The utility worked with the city, faith-based organizations, residents, local businesses and national partners to design this green space that revitalizes the Waterfront South neighborhood. The finished product, Phoenix Park, provides waterfront access for Camden residents, eliminates contamination to the Delaware River, and reduces flooding by capturing five million gallons of stormwater.
Some of the utility’s most notable work has been accomplished through the Camden Collaborative Initiative, founded in 2013 by the City of Camden, the CCMUA, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the US EPA. Joined by over 50 environmental and community service nonprofit partners including the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, and local neighborhood groups, the Collaborative maximizes resources and implements innovative strategies to improve environmental health, revitalize communities, and enrich the lives of Camden residents. The Collaborative focuses on six areas of impact, including: air quality; waste and recycling; land and brownfields; environmental justice; environmental education; and stormwater management and resource training. These initiatives address environmental issues, while also stabilizing the surrounding neighborhoods and improving public health. For example, in conjunction with the land and brownfields working group, the Collaborative is working to transform Camden’s two Superfund sites and 114 known contaminated sites into community assets that enhance ecological health, provide public access, protect water quality, and spark economic development. In just three years of collaboration, the partners have worked together to create 50 green infrastructure projects and five riverfront parks, establish sustainability and water conservation ordinances, and remediate harmful brownfields.
The Camden Collaborative Initiative has been a critical component to addressing environmental injustices in the City of Camden.
The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority is also a founding member of the Camden Stormwater Management and Resource Training Initiative (or Camden SMART), a cross-sector collaboration with the community to improve the quality of life and environmental and economic health of the City of Camden. To address both combined sewage flooding and water quality, the initiative’s work is focused on developing stormwater management policy, installing neighborhood-scale green and gray infrastructure projects, and developing green infrastructure training programs. The future of Camden is inextricably tied to the environmental and economic health of the region. A green stormwater infrastructure approach is the most environmentally beneficial and economically favorable way to remediate the effects of urbanization on the region’s waterways. To date, Camden SMART has completed 44 projects and has nine in-progress projects. Through the initiative’s work, the utility estimates 63 million gallons of stormwater will be captured each year.
CCMUA takes its commitments to revitalizing the city even further with its green jobs programs for youth, PowerCorps Camden and Green Ambassadors. Established in Philadelphia in 2013 and later adopted in Camden, PowerCorps is an AmeriCorps program that aims to address the dual challenge of alleviating poverty and improving sustainability and resilience of Camden. The program provides pre-employment training for at-risk young adults, working on Camden’s network of storm sewers, rain gardens, vacant lots, and parks. CCMUA’s other major green jobs program, the Green Ambassadors, is now in its fourth year. Green Ambassadors hires 10-20 high school students for a five-week summer internship, where students work with a variety of projects with the Camden Collaborative Initiative. Forty-five students have completed the program since its inception, and a few are pursuing degrees in environmental science. These programs help break down barriers to employment and foster economic opportunities, while simultaneously transforming Camden into a healthier, greener, more sustainable city.
Camden’s range of equitable water efforts demonstrates how water and wastewater infrastructure can impact many other aspects of a community, including parks and public space, air quality, economic development, and more. Camden is an impressive example of what we can achieve for our communities when we cultivate cross-sector partnerships to address both water and environmental issues.