Today Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin updated ocean water quality and post-Sandy beach construction projects. This year’s event, like previous years’, is more about public relations than it is about public policy. The State of the Shore Report does not address the fact that New Jersey does not conduct proper water quality testing. Many people do not realize that testing is only done one day per week, on Monday, putting weekend beach goers at risk. This results in five days of untested water before most people get to the beach, leaving the highest number of swimmers vulnerable to unsafe water. As the Governor is kicking off the start of the summer we need the Christie Administration to put in place policies that will ensure we have a coast for future generations and to keep these residents protected.

“Every year DEP congratulates themselves, but fails to tell the public that our water monitoring system is broken. This year, things are even worse because millions of dollars of funding that went for our state’s water monitoring system is being shifted to open space preservation. This means there is less money for testing so it is really becoming a system of no test and no tell. We only test on Mondays, and not all beaches get tested, so because of that there may be many beaches that are left open that shouldn’t be and that puts people at risk. Half our beaches do not get tested and the ones that do only get tested on Monday. So if it rains on Friday people could be swimming in polluted water not knowing until testing is done. That needs to be changed. It takes days in New Jersey to get test results yet there is technology out there that will get results in a few hours, which is what we should have. By not testing enough and not using the best technology we put people at risk and could chase away our tourism putting our economy at risk as well,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Our beaches continue to exceed national standards for bacteria from human and animal waste at higher levels.  Wreck Pond, even with all the work that has been done to it, continues to have elevated levels of fecal bacteria after rainstorms. This affects the beaches of Spring Lake and Sea Girt putting swimmers at risk after heavy storms. Testing is only done one day per week, and not after it rains.  Weekends attract the most beachgoers and water testing is done on Mondays.  This results in five days of untested water before most people get to the beach, leaving the highest number of swimmers vulnerable to unsafe water. Beachwood Beach has been exceeding the national standard since 2005, but have put in place additional monitoring after rain events as well as closing beaches for 24 hours after heavy rain falls. There is technology to test water quality within a few hours, which the DEP needs to invest in order to protect public health and our economy.

“For decades we have made progress in cleaning up our beaches and water ways along our coasts, bays, and estuaries. All those gains are at risk with the Christie Administration’s policies siding with special interest and polluters over the environment. They’re weakening protections for stormwater, allowing development in environmentally sensitive areas that impacts water quality, rolling back protections for streams and stream buffers and allowing for more development along the coast with new loopholes in the coastal rules,” said Tittel. “New Jersey needs to adopt policies and programs that will prevent overdevelopment along our coast and require proper cleanup of storm water unless they want to see more and more beaches close.”

In 2014 New Jersey was ranked 3rd in the nation for beach water quality and 11% of the beaches sampled exceeded national standards. 276 beaches, or 56%, were not monitored. There are certain beaches that were closed over and over again and too many beaches where we’re not doing proper testing. Christie’s policies are only making the problem worse with Ocean County continually seeing the most beach advisories and closings  The Christie Administration is rolling back beach access and water quality rules, letting the health of Barnegat Bay continue to deteriorate, and is refusing to take strong stance on off-shore drilling. 

“Too many beaches get closed because of pollution and runoff, which not only can affect public health, but hurt our tourism. We must put together a real cleanup plan especially for storm water to protect swimmers and the Jersey Shore,” said Jeff Tittel. “We are not doing enough proper testing and we also are allowing overdevelopment to impact our water quality. This has become even more important after the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.” 

The DEP has been eliminating oversight and transparency when it comes to all types of projects related to Sandy.  The proposed changes to the coastal regulations are currently being used by the DEP under an emergency order and under this rule you can rebuild without a permit or proposer oversight which will lead to more mistakes and problems. This will allow for new construction and rebuilding infrastructure without permits or oversight.  We end up waiving environmental standards and we may end up with a lot of problems later.  Instead of fixing CAFRA and protecting us better from sea level rise instead we are waiving standards which we could end up building projects that will end up causing more problems later.

In his State of the Shore speech, Martin also discussed his beach replenishment projects. These projects were sorely lacking plans for dune building.  Beach replenishment projects should be connected to an appropriate dune system. Dunes will not only protect property, but will hold the beach in because without the dunes the sand will wash away making towns vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. Dunes are not going to solve all our problems, but they are a step in the right direction. Dunes are vitally important when it comes to protecting our coast against beach erosion, providing habitats for all types of species, protecting property from storms and storm surges.

“One of the lessons of Hurricane Sandy is weakening environmental standards and waiving protections will end up causing more damage, hurting the economy and environment.  Replenishing beaches without dunes as in Monmouth County will mean the beaches will wash away in the next storm  Places where we actually had stronger protections in place fared much better during the storm. Photo ops and press events do not make up for weakening environmental standards and the failure to test our waters. This way, you can hide the fact that you’re rolling back and weakening environmental protections but the only science the Christie Administration believes in is political science,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We hope we have a very good summer season but unless we start changing our policies and do better testing and monitoring, we may be putting people at risk. We want people to go to the shore and not have to worry about the potential for illness. This is really about making sure we have clean water for the people who use our beaches.”