After more than three decades, Joe Bella, executive director of Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC) has announced his retirement. He leaves PVWC on March 31 2021, ending a career that began in 1984. He took over as executive director in 1994 and his legacy will live on as a pioneer throughout the water industry.
PVWC is New Jersey’s largest public drinking water provider serving over 800,000 consumers in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris and Passaic counties … and being the leader of PVWC has come with projects and obstacles alike. Under Bella, in 1984, PVWC implemented a lead service line replacement program. Recently, nationwide conversations about health risks due to lead in drinking water has grown. The Flint Water crisis in Michigan has brought the importance of removing lead service lines to light. “Providing high-quality drinking water to our consumers has always been the most important thing to me because as a water utility it’s all about public health and safety,” he stated. Providing high-quality drinking water means so much to Bella that PVWC has checked and replaced lead lines free of charge, a project that would normally cost thousands of dollars. PVWC has just a few hundred lead service lines left to replace.
Another victory for PVWC under the executive director is the approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close three open-air reservoirs – Great Notch and New Street in Woodland Park’s Garret Mountain and the Levine Reservoir in Paterson. While there has been pushback from historic preservation activists, Bella said, “Using open reservoirs to store treated drinking water poses health risks to PVWC consumers. That’s outdated technology and we’re in the 21st century now. I had to stick around a little longer in order to give it my best shot.”
So, what’s next for the PVWC executive director known affectionately throughout the water industry as “Joe”? He will be hiking and taking road trips to visit his daughters in their respective parts of the country. When asked what he would miss most about PVWC, he simply stated, “The people I work with.”
PVWC is conducting a nationwide search for Bella’s replacement. His successor will be challenged with eliminating lead and completing PVWC’s plans to close the open-air reservoirs.