One of New Jersey's most important tools for protecting the water that residents and businesses rely on is about to expire. As rain and snow melt flow across the land, they wash oil and grease, pet waste, fertilizer, pesticides, bacteria, trash, and other pollutants into our waterways. This adds up to the biggest source of water pollution statewide, according to the state's own studies. As a result, 90 percent of our assessed rivers and streams, 100 percent of our coastal waters and 89 percent of our bays and estuaries fail to meet one or more designated uses. A number of environmental groups are petitioning the state to strengthen the requirements to control this pollution, and support cleaner drinking, swimming, and fishing waters.
The petition, sent today by Hackensack Riverkeeper, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, American Littoral Society, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Clean Ocean Action, New Jersey Environmental Lobby, and Natural Resources Defense Council asks the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to update the permits governing stormwater runoff from municipal storm sewers, highways, and developed sites. The groups seek stronger requirements to capture polluted runoff - using "green infrastructure" such as rain gardens, roadside plantings, and permeable pavement - before it can wash pollution into rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal waters.
"NY/NJ Baykeeper has looked for innovative ways, including green infrastructure and oyster restoration, to improve water quality in NY/NJ Harbor and Raritan Bay. Ironically, poor water quality is a primary reason DEP cited for shutting down oyster restoration and research. We hope that the new rules the DEP adopts will be another step toward restarting this invaluable research," said Deborah Mans, the NY/NJ Baykeeper.
Under the Clean Water Act, stormwater permits are to be renewed every five years to incorporate new technology and best practices. This constant renewal is designed to continually reduce water pollution until all waterways possible are suitable for drinking, swimming, and fishing and ultimately water pollution is eliminated. The current permits, known as MS4 permits, were adopted on March 1, 2009 and are set to expire on February 28, 2014. Over that time, driven by stronger standards in updated Clean Water Act permits, states and cities around the country have used green infrastructure to reduce polluted runoff. The groups call on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to follow the lead of cities like New York and Philadelphia.
"Hackensack Riverkeeper has been thwarted in our quest for clean water in the Hackensack and throughout the State. New Jersey waters will never meet the swimmable, fishable, or drinkable goals of the Clean Water Act until the DEP takes this chronic problem seriously and issues meaningful and enforceable permits that require our cities and towns to meet their obligation to protect and restore our aquatic resources," Captain Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper.
"For decades we have had numerous studies that have determined that too much stormwater pollution is entering our waterways and negatively affecting the public's use of these resources, especially Barnegat Bay," said Helen Henderson of the American Littoral Society. "The DEP has an opportunity to strengthen new stormwater pollution permits to help improve the health of the Bay and water quality throughout the State", she said. "This is an opportunity to protect the environment and the economy that relies on clean water".
Stormwater contains pollutants such as animal waste, fertilizer, grime, oil and gasoline and other contaminants that together harm water quality. For example, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon in stormwater pollution are the primary cause of low dissolved oxygen in many state waters. Low dissolved oxygen can suffocate or drive away many species that live in the state's waters and build the base of the ecological food chain. Stormwater is also a primary source of bacteria and viruses that can make water unsafe for human contact. Properly managing stormwater pollution is an important goal for all of the eight groups who filed today's petition.
"Preventing stormwater pollution better protects our waterways and our public safety and health" said Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper. "New Jersey's stormwater rules are weak and ineffective at preventing contamination from getting into our waterways and all New Jersey
residents end up paying the price in terms of degraded water quality, more localized flooding, erosion, algal blooms and reduced recreational opportunities" stated van Rossum.
"Adopting stormwater permitting that embraces current technology and science will go a long way to cleaning up the majority of waterways that violate clean water standards. New Jersey residents deserve clean water, and in filing this petition, we support the state taking a strong step towards restoring clean water," said Jennifer M. Coffey, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.
"With today's petition, NJEL along with the other environmental groups are asking DEP to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act. With today's petition we are asking NJ to reverse a trend of lessening standards. By updating the MS4 permits, NJ will be taking strong steps to improve our water quality that up to now violates clean water act standards. Improved water quality will benefit all in NJ," said Michael L. Pisauro, Jr. New Jersey Environmental Lobby.
"The ocean is at the receiving end for all polluted run-off enteringwaterways. It is time to update and strengthen the stormwater rules toensure that they will improve water quality. Our quality of life,coast, and economy depends on it," said Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf.
The petition the groups sent can be accessed at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/llevine/groups_petition_nj_to_address.html