Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency approved New Jersey’s 303(d) list. (link) The 303(d) list is required under the Federal Clean Water Act. Every two years the DEP is required to submit to EPA a list of all the waters in the state that do not meet designated standards: drinking water supply, recreational use; aquatic life, fish and shellfish harvest and consumption; etc. Every water body in the state should be designated for particular uses: recreational, water supply, aquatic life, etc. All waters should be meeting general aquatic life standards. NJ is then supposed to use this list and prioritize the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads for affected waters. In essence the maximum amount of a particular pollutant that a water can accommodate and still met water quality standards.
According to NJ’s 2010 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, prepared in part to comply with 303(d), NJ has 18,000 miles of rivers and streams; more than 50,000 acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs; 950,000 acres of wetlands; 260 miles of estuaries; 127 miles of coastline; and 450 square miles of ocean within its jurisdiction. In order to comply with the requirements of the clean water act, NJ monitors its waters, except it does not monitor all of the waterways.
NJ’s list is very interesting and very disturbing. Of the waters it does monitor the results are very telling. Only 3% of NJ’s waters support all designated uses if you do not count fish consumption. 60% of our monitored waters are not clean enough to support aquatic life. All waters in NJ are supposed to meet aquatic life designation but only 40% of the monitored waters do. Shockingly only .only 48% of NJ’s waters are clean enough to meet the drinking water designation. All of NJ’s waters are supposed to meet the recreational designation, but only 16% of the water does. That means only 16% of waters in NJ are clean enough to swim in or boat in.
In an attempt to put a positive spin, the report says, “long-term trends in chemical water quality data show generally stable water quality conditions statewide, with improving conditions for some parameters and declining conditions for others.” While I have not done a detailed comparison between the 2008 and 2010 report it would appear at first blush that there is a decline in water quality in NJ.
In short, NJ’s water quality is not good and it has not been getting better. This stagnation or decline is despite NJ’s strong environmental laws and regulations. While NJ’s water is not getting better the current administration is dismantling environmental protection. There are two glaring examples, the recently enacted law delaying implementation of NJ’s Water Quality Management Plans and the pending extension of the Permit Extension of Act of 2008. In its support of delaying the WQMP rules, DEP testified that they do not intend to enforce the regulations and will be seeking to amend the law. In the meantime because of the delay, applications can come in based upon plans that may be decades old and the applicant is not required to prove that there is available water supply. Also, these plans are not required to deal with septic systems. These delays are despite the Reports acknowledgement that land use has one of the biggest impacts on water quality.
The State Legislature is in the process of passing another Permit Extension Act. If this bill is passed permits and other approvals that would have expired on or after January 1, 2007 would be extended. That extension could be as long as June 30, 2014.This would be third extension of permits since 2008. The integrated report inadvertently spells out one of the issues with the Permit Extension Act. According to the 2010 Integrated report, “if a TMDL is adopted in 2010 and permits are issued in 2011 with a three year compliance schedule, improvements might not be observed until 2014.” Permits for discharges into our waterways are valid for up to 5 years. This would mean that a permit issued in 2002 would be valid until June 30, 2015. The discharger would not have to comply with any TMDL prepared after the issuance of the permit until the permit expires. It could be up to 13 years before a discharger would be required to comply with a standard developed in 2003. In short, TMDLs developed between 2002 and June 30, 2015 may have no effect in cleaning our water because of the Permit Extension Act.
As the Integrated Report makes clear, NJ’s environment needs serious attention. We should be using this current economic situation to revise our regulations to ensure water quality in NJ will improve. We should not be using it as an excuse to continue to degrade NJ’s water quality. How much does dirty water cost our economy? I suggest dirty water costs us more than we realize.