Clean water is essential to the citizens, environment and economy of New Jersey. Studies by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the U.S. Geological Survey and others show critical deficiencies in water supplies and quality. Further, New Jersey is not meeting federal or state standards, failing to implement green infrastructure practices, overpumping aquifers and surface waters, causing saltwater intrusion, polluting rivers and estuaries, and is using water unsustainably. Fortunately, with well-established regulatory reforms, incentives and financing programs, New Jersey’s water issues can be addressed.
The outgoing administration rolled back critical clean water protections, seriously jeopardizing water quality and quantity in New Jersey, while failing to address key deficiencies in the state’s water supply and water quality protection programs. Among the safeguards weakened were the Flood Hazard Act rules, the Fresh Water Wetlands rules, Water Quality Management Planning rules, groundwater standards, Water Allocation rules and Highland’s septic density tandards. These rollbacks compromise pollution standards and encourage inappropriate development.
In addition, proposed draft municipal separate storm sewer systems permits should be strengthened, surface water quality standards should be improved and combined sewer overflow permits issued by the DEP must be enforced to protect public health.
Maintaining clean water in the state’s rivers, lakes, streams, bays and estuaries is also vitally important to the quality oflife and economy in New Jersey. Currently, there is only one watershed — Flat Brook — that marginally meets all federal surface water quality standards. Water bodies that do not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act are considered impaired. States are required to address this by using Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) which determine how much pollution a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. The TMDL implementation plan specifies how to achieve this by identifying what pollutants must be reduced and from what sources. Ideally, pollution limits are then incorporated into permits and enforced by the DEP.
Another critical tool — antidegradation designations — establish important protections (such as limiting discharges and development) for water bodies that currently meet or exceed water quality standards.
The DEP confirms that there is an increasing concentration of many pollutants and a statewide negative trend toward impaired conditions in surface waters, especially a trend toward the degradation of non-impaired waters. It is crucial that this be reversed.
Drinking water is another area that requires action. Many water systems in New Jersey have exceeded federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards for lead, including those serving schools and medical centers. Lead in housing and soils also remains a concern as well because there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Water supply plan updates are imperative. The New Jersey Water Supply Management Act requires the State Water Supply Plan to be updated at least every five years. The last update was in 1996. The outgoing administration proposed a plan that projects significant water supply deficits in half of New Jersey’s watershed management areas; however, it consists of existing and antiquated data and lacks the components needed to guide state water supply operations and to identify solutions.
- Reverse rollbacks and adopt stronger protections for clean water
- Remedy surface water quality issues
- Address lead in drinking water
- Protect water supply