Trenton — Water quality monitoring standards for coastal streams used by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are seriously flawed, according to a county assessment released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Monmouth County found that DEP methods are unable to measure adverse biological impacts of polluted stormwater runoff, thus underestimating the environmental damage suffered by rivers and streams caused by development.
In a June 4, 2007 letter to DEP, the Monmouth County Health Department Coordinator William Simmons underlined the inadequacies and urged DEP to “reexamine the relevance” of the state standards:
“The DEP needs to reexamine the relevance of using Total Suspended Solids (TSS) as the parameter of choice to evaluate the chemical water quality in streams in the inner coastal plain… Either the standard is set too high, or the TSS method, originally developed to measure sewer effluent, is inappropriate to surface water monitoring…Using TSS in these [coastal plain] streams will continue to underestimate the impacts from runoff…Several years ago, the United States Geological Service (USGS) determined TSS was inappropriate and stopped using it in their surface water monitoring.”
Monmouth County Health Department is funded by DEP to monitor water quality and samples at 66 stream sites. The key flaw that the county found was the failure of the TSS standard to consider fine soil particles suspended in stormwater which then redeposit with severe adverse effects on fish, aquatic habitat and water quality. These finer soil particles are often found in runoff from roads, parking lots and rooftops.
“DEP knows that water quality and aquatic life are being destroyed by rampant over-development but lacks the political courage and resources to revise standard and enforce clean water laws,” stated New Jersey DEP Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, referring to recent misleading press statements by DEP spokespeople touting excellent water quality. “The effects of this DEP head-in-the-sand approach are being seen in the form of more beach closures, fish kills, polluted streams and the ecological meltdown of Barnegat Bay”
The Monmouth County Report follows a series of scientific criticisms of DEP water quality programs:
- Ocean County, just south of Monmouth, found the DEP regulatory estimation method severely under-estimates stormwater runoff volumes and impacts from development;
- Rutgers scientists have criticized DEP monitoring and standards for nitrogen impacts on Barnegat Bay which, according to ecological indicators, is on the verge of ecosystem collapse, but DEP monitoring finds healthy; and
- Limited DEP beach bacterial testing has not predicted recent brown tides, fish kills, and low dissolved oxygen levels.
“The state simply must do a better job of monitoring and employing protective standards,” Wolfe added. “Otherwise, the quality of life in our coastal counties, which are an economic engine for New Jersey, will be irretrievably trashed.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.