VOORHEES, N.J.—“When it comes to the condition of New Jersey’s water infrastructure, Superstorm Sandy was yet another wakeup call that we’ve been sounding for several years now,” New Jersey American Water Vice President of Operations Stephen Schmitt announced on Friday.

Schmitt was speaking at the Building a Sustainable Infrastructure After Sandy Conference produced by NJ Spotlight at the Trenton War Memorial. The conference, which featured utility and government leaders, was designed to evaluate the need, plans and costs for a more robust utility infrastructure in New Jersey, particularly in light of Sandy’s impact.

Schmitt participated in a panel discussion titled “New Jersey’s Aging Infrastructure,” which kicked off the conference. “As it stands today, more than 15 percent of New Jersey American Water’s nearly 9,000 miles of pipe are between 100 and 140 years old,” Schmitt said. “These pipes, which were a foundational component of the state’s economic growth in the past century, are now at the end of their useful lives.”

But the cost of replacing water main today is an order of magnitude greater than it was 50 years ago, Schmitt noted. He said the situation requires proper action today, or the long-term impacts will be compounded, becoming even more costly. “Letting that happen will degrade New Jersey’s competitiveness in economic development,” he said.

“Unless we accelerate our investment in renewing the state’s water infrastructure, its long-term resiliency is at risk,” said Schmitt. To prevent this, each year, New Jersey American Water invests about $300 million in repairing, replacing and upgrading its infrastructure.