TOMS RIVER, NJ - This Thursday, August 12, 2010, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee (Senator Bob Smith, Chair) and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee (Assemblyman John F. McKeon, Chair) will meet in a joint session in Toms River to consider a suite of bills and to take testimony from stakeholders, the public, and scientific experts on the declining health of New Jersey waters.

According to Assemblyman John F. McKeon, Chairman of the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee, the New Jersey legislature is “committed to restoring Barnegat Bay to the ecological and geological wonder it once was and looks forward to hearing from stakeholders and members on the public on Thursday on how we can achieve this goal.”  Both Committees, Assemblyman McKeon continued, are “returning to Tom's River with a package of measures to stop the degradation of Barnegat Bay and to breathe new life into its waters. By requiring the use of slow-release nitrogen and controlling the amount of fertilizer used, the measures we are proposing would significantly reduce pollution runoff and the contamination of the estuary.” Senator Bob Smith, Chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee, added that “Barnegat Bay is one of New Jersey’s great treasures and it is dying!  This package of bills is the first step towards bringing good health back to our precious bay.”

William deCamp Jr., Chairman of Save Barnegat Bay, notes that “this suite of bills has statewide and potentially national implications and deserves the legislature's whole-hearted support.  We are extremely grateful to Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon for seeing through the smoke and using language that would regulate the content of the fertilizer, not merely adjust what is written on the label.”  “Thursday morning in Toms River is the essential rendezvous for all citizens who truly care about Barnegat Bay,” continued deCamp, “at last we are acting instead of talking.”

Tom’s River, nestled in the heart of the 660-square mile Barnegat Bay watershed, will be the site for this important meeting of New Jersey’s legislative environmental leadership.  At issue will be several bills that address both the environmental degradation occurring in Barnegat Bay and the deterioration of water quality throughout the state.  These bills include measures to reduce runoff rates, decrease nutrient loading, and repair, decontaminate, and restore function to aging stormwater infrastructure and utilities.

Long-time advocate of clean waters and healthy New Jersey ecosystems, Tom Fote, the Legislative Chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, warns that “the many problems in Barnegat Bay keep growing while the solutions remain unimplemented.  A bay-wide disaster is looking -us in the face. We can stop it from happening but we need to stop postponing the solutions and act now. These bills are a start.”

New Jersey has recently seen record levels of coastal-zone and watershed development.  According to research conducted by the Institute for Coastal and Marine Sciences at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s Shore counties are the fastest-growing in the state.  Between 1995 and 2002, development jumped 37% in Ocean County, 22% in Monmouth County, and 24% in Atlantic County.  Compounding the high rates of new development, New Jersey Shore communities host over a million visitors during summer months.

“We’re faced with a coastline that has been used, abused, and pushed to its limit,” notes Sean Dixon, Clean Ocean Action’s Coastal Policy Attorney.  “The citizens of New Jersey are more connected to the water, shore, and ocean than anywhere else in the nation, so we owe it to the environment to enact responsible, innovative, and accomplishable policies that provide for the long-term enjoyment and protection of our valued resources,” added Dixon.

Commenting on the need for comprehensive action, Jaclyn Rhoads, Director for Conservation Policy for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, notes that “the protection and restoration of Barnegat Bay can only happen if multiple efforts are put forth; it is imperative that all of these bills move through the legislature so that Barnegat Bay can be used as a model for water resource protection throughout the Pinelands and throughout New Jersey.”

Misapplied and misused fertilizers are resulting in the choking of our waters with dangerously high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous – concentrations that have led to algal blooms, oxygen dead zones, and impaired waters throughout the state.  Some 1.4 million pounds of nitrogen (enough to fill 70,000 twenty-pound bags of fertilizer) reportedly flow into the bay every year. According to a statement released recently by Assemblyman John F. McKeon, “scientists predict that in the absence of preventive action, the [Barnegat] Bay's ecosystems would collapse within a generation.”

Helen Henderson, Policy Advocate for the American Littoral Society agrees; “Decades of study and documentation from many experts tell us Barnegat Bay is dying.  It is clear that nutrient pollution, particularly excess nitrogen, is a main source of the ecological degradation.”  “Fertilizer, however, is just one piece of the puzzle: over-development, ineffective stormwater management practices, soil health and fertilizer are all major problems that must be addressed - this proposed package of legislation takes the necessary steps to begin healing Barnegat Bay,” continued Henderson.

Mistreated soils and construction-project area displacements of natural vegetation are leading to the compaction and deleterious alteration of our natural New Jersey soils – changes that exacerbate the impacts from storms and fertilizer misapplications because we are reducing the ability of the soils to carry out their functions.  “Soil compaction,” notes William deCamp Jr., of Save Barnegat Bay, “is one of the most ignored subjects nationally and must be addressed if rainwater runoff is to be properly managed. This bill makes a very effective start.”  “Polluted runoff is destroying waterways from Barnegat Bay to the Passaic River and their priceless economic, recreational, and public health assets,” notes Dave Pringle, Campaign Director at the NJ Environmental Federation.

The over-use of our lands has a significant impact on our waters, coasts, and ocean.  Highly-paved, over-developed land inhibits natural stormwater absorption which over-taxes our storm drains and sewage systems, clogs municipal treatment facilities, and transports non-point source pollution directly into our waterways.  Of an estimated 2,700 storm-basins in Ocean County, a large number are malfunctioning - causing stormwater (and any debris flushed into the basins by rainfall) to flow directly into the watershed without treatment.

“We have turned Barnegat Bay into New Jersey's largest stormwater detention basin and if we do not act now the bay will die,” warns Jeff Tittel, Director of NJ Sierra Club. “Cleaning up stormwater, limiting fertilizer and limiting soil compaction are essential if we want Barnegat Bay to be here for future generations to enjoy."

“It’s a complex problem requiring a complex solution and Thursday's committee votes are the launch pad,” concludes Dave Pringle, of the NJ Environmental Federation. “Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon have been steadfast in tackling these problems that have also been campaigned on and championed by Governor Christie. Now other legislators need to follow their lead – thousands of NJEF members over the past 2 weeks have been urging them to do just that.”

“The Bay is the jewel of the Shore, and from Cape May to Closter, the public knows that the Bay is in trouble,” said Doug O’Malley, field director for Environment New Jersey. “When we talk to people at their doorsteps, they immediately understand the problem – and they want the Legislature and the Governor to start cleaning up the Bay.”

Description of the Bills

Because of the issues highlighted above (and more), the Committees will consider the following pieces of legislation in order to combat the further deterioration of our New Jersey environment:

Fertilizer Bill (S1411, A2290)

-        The bill requires that all lawn fertilizer sold or used at retail in New Jersey contain at least 30% of its nitrogen in slow release form

-        The bill contains a cap on the total nitrogen allowed in fertilizer bags

-        The bill would prohibit the sale of phosphorous-containing fertilizers sold at retail and sold for use by professional landscapers, with some limited exceptions (including an exception for organically-derived fertilizers with no synthetic additives).

-        The bill would also promote public education on the perils of over-use of fertilizers, prohibit fertilizer application from November 15th through March 1st of each year, and require that professional landscapers be trained and certified in the proper use and hazards of fertilizer application.

-        The bill also contains exemptions for golf courses, sets buffer zones between turf and waterbodies, and requires the use of slow-release nitrogen (a less-harmful to water quality type of nitrogen) in fertilizers intended for sale at retail.

Soil Health Bill (S1410, A2501)

-        This bill is designed to develop standards for restoration of soil destroyed during construction activities, and to protect soils from excessive and unnecessary compaction, removal, and alteration.

-        Without such protection, homebuyers can also be stuck with unhealthy yards that are difficult and expensive to improve.

-        Un-compacted, healthy soils support plant growth and reduce stormwater-runoff volume and pollution. Less stormwater and greater water infiltration reduces erosion and improves stream flows.

-        Healthy soils also help conserve water by increasing groundwater recharge and requiring less watering.  Healthy soils also reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticides.  In conclusion, health soils have many environmental and economic benefits and need to be protected.

Stormwater Bill (S1856, A2606) & Stormwater Utility Authority Bill (S1815, A2577)

-        These bills would provide for the creation of an Ocean County program to reduce pollution levels flowing into Barnegat Bay and the establishment of guidance for stormwater utility operation – guidance that would serve as a model for the state.

-        These bills gives Ocean County the option to charge a fee to developers or issue bonds; these options would raise funds for the county to address stormwater issues and can be used to give developers an incentive to reduce pollution from new projects.

-        These bills would provide for the restoration, maintenance, and modernization of Ocean County’s stormwater systems.

-        These bills tackle one of the most visible forms of non-point source pollution into Barnegat Bay by developing a comprehensive plan for identifying and fixing existing sewage pollution sources, analyzing siltation and sedimentation sources, and minimizing run-off.