PRESS RELEASE

PROPOSED NEW WATER RULES: HALP EMPTY OR HALF FULL?

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Contacts: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, (609) 558-9100; Dave Pringle, NJ Env Federation, (732) 996-4288; Bill Wolfe, NJ PEER (609) 397-4861

Trenton – Over the last twenty years, sprawl and pollution have spread across New Jersey’s landscape, marring rivers and streams that were once pristine and making those that were already polluted even dirtier. In fact, New Jersey is now number one in the nation for “impaired stream segments” – the number of stream miles that are polluted as a percentage of total stream miles
across the state.

In response, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has just proposed three sets of rules – for surface water quality standards, including Category 1 stream designation, water quality management planning, and pollution discharge limits on the Passaic River – which are the first major attempt by the state to address its water problems. All three are currently open for public comment, with the final public hearing on Category I taking place on Thursday in
Bordentown.

After more than fifteen years of trying to get enhanced protections for waters in the state, the New Jersey Sierra Club, the New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF), and the New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) are pleased to finally have these proposals to work with. “These rules will determine whether or not New Jersey will have enough clean water for the next generation,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey
Sierra Club.

Category 1 Designation: Increasing Protections for the State’s Most Important Waterways

By designating a waterway as Category 1 (Cl), the state of New Jersey says that there will be “no measurable or calculable change in water quality.” Cl protections require a 300-foot buffer on either side of the waterway and limit the ability of new sewer plants to discharge into it. As a result, DEP’s proposal to upgrade almost 900 miles of streams in New Jersey is a major step forward in protecting the state’s water quality. Many of these streams are long overdue for getting that level of protection. The Sierra Club, NJEF, and PEER strongly support the streams that have been listed, particularly the Rockaway, the Musconetcong, and the Walkill, all important waterways that have been denied the C1 designation for years, mostly for political purposes.

There are many other streams and stream segments, however, that should also be designated C 1 but were left off the proposed list. For example, although segments of the Ramapo and Toms Rivers were added, these sections are too small and don’t encompass real, overall protections for the rivers. Additional parts of these and other waterways should be included as well to provide the needed protections for New Jersey’s drinking water supply.

“While we strongly support the increased water quality protections these proposed designations would provide, we are very oncerned that DEP is also proposing changes to

the methodology would block needed additional future C1 designations. We urge DEP to abandon the proposed changes, retain the existing method that has been upheld by the courts, and adopt the 900 miles or proposed upgrades,” said Bill Wolfe, NJ PEER Director.

Water quality Management Planning: Determining Where Wastewater Will Go

Water Quality Management Planning (WQMP) rules regulate where new wastewater systems – sewers and septics – can be placed and, thus, where new development can occur. “If you build it, they will come,” explained Dave Pringle of NJEF. “Where new sewers go, development is sure to follow.”

New Jersey has made at least five attempts at establishing appropriate WQMP Rules in the past sixteen years, but unfortunately many times the rules were used as an excuse to weaken water protections, rather than enhance them. Consequently, this new proposal, another attempt to develop strong WQMP rules for New Jersey, is among the most important sets of environmental rules to be released in recent memory.

The Sierra Club, NJEF, and PEER applaud the many positive aspects of the proposed rules. Rolling back sewer service areas based on the presence of threatened and endangered species or their habitats, connecting development limits on sewer to available water supply, establishing a strong standard (2 mg/liter) for nitrate content in our water, and beginning to regulate development on septics are all steps in the right direction.

Unfortunately, for every positive aspect of the proposed rules, there is a loophole that seriously weakens the overall effect the rules will have. Specifically, the rules

  • allow the State Planning Commission to extend sewers into environmentally sensitive areas through Plan Endorsement
  • do not include steep slopes, groundwater recharge or wellhead protection areas, endangered species areas under 25 acres, or contiguous forests in the definition of “environmentally sensitive areas”
  • do not include an analysis of how much water is being used versus how much is
    available to determine how much more development can be accommodated by
    existing water supply and limit development at or below that level
  • specify a HUC 11, a gigantic watershed area, as the unit at which to analyze water
    quality, which allows for many small areas to become badly polluted while still
    achieving the target average for the watershed as a whole
  • use the New Jersey Geological Survey model’s assessments of how much water is
    available for recharging the state’s aquifers, despite the fact that these assessments
    seriously overestimate the reality of water supply

Total Maximum Daily Load: Cleaning Up New Jersey’s Most Polluted River, the Passaic

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is a critical tool created by the federal Clean Water Act for polluted rivers, lakes, and streams that are not currently meeting water quality standards. The TMDL assesses the amount of pollution a waterway can receive and still meet water quality standards and uses this assessment to set enforceable limits on pollutant discharges into the waterway.

Although New Jersey has over 1,000 waterbodies that require TMDLs, no river system is a higher priority for TMDL development than the Passaic basin. For 30 years the Passaic River has been polluted with phosphorus discharged from dozens of sewage treatments plants upstream from the drinking water intakes for most of North Jersey. While the new TMDL proposal finally makes an attempt to deal with water quality problems in the Passaic, according to Jeff Tittel, “This TMDL has Too Many Damn Loopholes. It does not adequately address a real clean up plan for the river.”

Mr. Tittel and other environmentalists point to a number of weaknesses in the TMDL proposal.

  • An overabundance of nutrients is the most serious problem on the Passaic River, often causing a river that is one of the state’s largest drinking water sources to be too polluted to draw drinking water from. This TMDL, however, only deals with phosphorus, leaving out nitrogen, another major nutrient.
  • The TMDL lets sewage dischargers off the hook. Although they are the biggest source of pollution on the river, this proposal allows them to keep polluting at a standard that is four times the level called for in the original draft TMDL from 2005, which was based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for discharges into impaired (ie. polluted) waterways.
  • The proposal limits new development, but the numbers used to set these limits do not accurately represent the current levels of pollution coming from existing development. Instead, the numbers seem to suggest that half the pollution from within New Jersey and all the pollution coming downriver from New York state will magically disappear, clearing the way for more development and more discharge of pollutants into the river. Because of these faulty assumptions, the level of pollution in the river will only go down on paper, not in reality.
  • The TMDL includes a trading and averaging scheme, which may be appropriate for the Bush Administration and Wall Street; but not for clean water. It is not acceptable to say that while one community has no water fit for drinking, another community has plentiful clean water, so, on average, we are doing an adequate job.

Even though most people do not know that rules like this exist, they have a tremendous impact on not only water quality and quantity, but land use, and will shape the future of New Jersey. These rules will determine where and how New Jersey grows and whether we will have enough water to meet the needs of our citizens.

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