TRENTON, NJ - Today the DEP finalized rules on 25 permits to address combined sewer overflow (CSOs). These rules will not clean up our waterways. The permits are more about giving the Christie Administration cover to show they are doing something on the water issue. However, the administration cannot hide their dirty water record behind the DEP announcement. The number of impaired waterways in New Jersey is growing at an alarming rate.  Meanwhile the administration has been rewriting rules to protect water, rolling back county water quality management planning, and opposing legislation that would fund local CSOs cleanups.  New Jersey is close to last in the nation in addressing CSO problems, according to the EPA. 

“This rule does not clean up our waterways. It will actually continue to allow millions of gallons of raw sewage to enter our waterways for decades. The plan sets up a voluntary planning process that will take years to complete. When the planning process is over, there is no money to implement those plans. There is a need for at least 14 billion dollars for CSOs and that money doesn’t exist,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Until there are actually cleanup plans and funding in place, these are not permits, but rather permission to keep on polluting.”

“New Jersey has had one of the worst records in the country when it comes to combined sewer overflows.  Every time it rains, it pours raw sewage into our waterways and even into people’s homes.  EPA has allowed New Jersey for far too long to get away this problem, and now has finally stepped in and required these permits New Jersey has been ignoring for decades.  DEP hasn’t done this on their own. EPA is requiring them to have these permits. Now that there are permits, will the EPA require them to clean up their waterways? This proposal right now is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.  There needs to be billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements and that funding is not there. A plan without an implementation is a mirage. Every time it rains the sewage will continue to flow. Under these permits, you can continue to discharge the same amount as you develop a plan and implementation schedule while you find money to do the work. The CSO permits do not actually clean up the waterways, the discharge point just get a permit number,” said Jeff Tittel.

The Legislature has pushed for bill S-579, which is up this Monday, that would allow the stormwater utilities established by the county, municipality, or local utilities authority to charge a fee for use of the stormwater management systems to create, maintain, improve, clean up, and fix stormwater management systems.  Dilapidated storm water systems exacerbate the problem by increasing the water in combined sewers and this will help reduce the amount of water in sewers during major storm events.  Christie has opposed this bill. 

“Funding from this bill would help clean up these discharges, where there currently is no funding.  But the Governor opposes the bill,” said Jeff Tittel. “We have exempted redevelopment projects across the state, but especially in urban areas, from addressing and fixing stormwater problems.  We need to spend over $46 billion on fixing and upgrading our water infrastructure.  Meanwhile the problems are getting worse.  As long as our Governor continues to weaken environmental protection and oppose funding mechanisms this is a nice press release but will not cleanup waterways.”

Combined sewer overflow undermines the revitalization of our cities and older towns because no one wants to invest in areas that are flooded with raw sewerage after heavy rains.  This problem increases water treatment costs and causes many of our beaches and waterways to close.  This funding will help prevent these discharges in the future. 

Without utilities we do not have a funding mechanism to clean up combined sewer overflows which are a health hazard.  This also hurts the ability of cities to revitalize themselves. According to recent studies, it would cost about $14 billion to clean up CSOs in New Jersey.  We need this as a mechanism to do it. 

“The biggest source of pollution we face is nonpoint pollution and we need to retrofit our stormwater basins to protect our waterways. Cleaning up combined sewer overflows has many benefits.  This will help revitalize our waterfront neighborhoods and communities as well as making our waterfronts more open to fishing and other recreational uses,” said Jeff Tittel.  “Without funding, this program is a mirage.  We need a mechanism to pay for it otherwise we will be waist deep in sewage every time it rains.”

The Christie administration has an ongoing record of weakening of clean water protections.  The Governor has basically gotten rid of the Drinking Water Quality Institute.  The administration has not adopted standards for perchlorate and PFOA even though we have the science in place to adopt protections.  They have downgraded and eviscerated the DEP Division of Science and have replaced it with the Science Advisory Board which is primarily made up of polluters and corporate interests.  The DEP is holding closed door meetings with polluters to rewrite and weaken the stormwater, flood hazard area, category one, and stream buffer regulations.  The administration has delayed adoption of the Water Quality Management Plans.  This delay has allowed the DEP to rewrite the rules to allow for more sewer service areas in environmentally sensitive areas and more pollution into our waterways.  The DEP Waiver rule would allow the Commissioner to waive compliance with over 120 agency programs.   

“Over 40 years after the Clean Water Act was passed New Jersey still has serious water polluting problems threatening not only our waterways, but drinking water as well. We are concerned that the Christie administration’s anti-environmental agenda will actually make water pollution in New Jersey worse. His Administration has rolled back protection for C1 streams & stream buffers. They have allowed sewers into environment areas and for larger sewage package plants. They have weakened nutrient standards for discharge. The old saying is this glass half empty or half full? It doesn’t really matter because given the Christie administration you do not want to drink what is in it anyway,” said Jeff Tittel.