Flood Defense Act is smart long-term investment

(Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed originally ran in the March 18, 2019, print edition of ROI-NJ.)

Clocking in at more than 64 inches of precipitation, 2018 was the wettest year on record for New Jersey. Even so, experts predict worsening weather is still to come. 

Increased precipitation means increased polluted stormwater runoff, which is creating serious challenges. In fact, estimates are that it’s a $16 billion problem.

When rain or snowfall creates stormwater runoff in natural environments, that runoff can flow into nearby streams or be absorbed by the ground. But this isn’t always possible in more developed regions. When water falls onto hard surfaces, like streets or roofs, it can’t be soaked up. 

Richard Lawton of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council

As a result, stormwater that is not managed properly can lead to frequent flooding. The effects of flooding can range from frustrating to catastrophic — including traffic nightmares, tainted drinking water and destroyed homes and businesses.

The Flood Defense Act, which is currently pending Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature, gives New Jersey communities the opportunity to establish stormwater runoff management programs on a purely voluntary basis. 

Stormwater utilities assess a simple and reasonable fee on properties with nonabsorbent surfaces — like concrete or roofing — that contribute to flooding from runoff. Local governments use those funds to construct proven on-the-ground, job-creating projects that capture polluted runoff, protect against flooding and repair failing infrastructure. 

These are smart, effective and fair solutions, and more than 1,600 communities across 40 states are already benefiting from them. It’s time New Jersey joined them.

Business leaders evaluating the costs and benefits of this legislation must consider the likely impacts over the near term and the long term, as well as who will be affected. Both the scope and outcome of this type of analysis will be based upon how business leaders define success.

There is a growing number of businesses that define success according to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Commercial success is not narrowly defined in economic terms only, but also by a company’s net social and environmental impacts. 

Stormwater programs present a chance for local businesses to adapt to changing environmental conditions in ways that will protect long-term profits against more serious damages and expenses in the future.

Without improved stormwater infrastructure, New Jersey businesses will have to contend with even greater costs. Not only does flooding lower property values and damage structures, but it can deter commercial activity. 


There is a growing number of businesses that define success according to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.


While the first instinct of many business leaders may be to balk at any new potential fee, not considering the growing risks and costs of inaction could be considered to be a breach of fiduciary duty. In this case, what may look like an expense to a business taking a narrow, short-term view will look like a smart investment by those viewing it through a long-term, triple-bottom-line business lens.

Since the 1970s, more than 3,300 homes and businesses throughout the state have flooded. How many thousands upon thousands of dollars is the New Jersey business community losing every year due to flooding? We will only continue to lose business unless we take action.

Flooding is a risk, and it’s incumbent upon businesses to mitigate any hazards. Addressing the risk proactively and building resiliencies will yield economic benefits. 

Stormwater presents real dangers to New Jersey — flooding occurred on a regular basis last year, at times with such quick intensity that residents had almost no time to respond. 

Fortunately, the New Jersey Legislature and Gov. Murphy may grant our communities and businesses the opportunity to take on this threat. 

The Flood Defense Act is our chance to protect our businesses, our drinking water and our environment so that our communities and local economies can continue to adapt and thrive.

Richard Lawton is the executive director of New Jersey Sustainable Business Council.