Many factors affect the quality and quantity of drinking water available to New Jerseyans. Erratic precipitation patterns change the amount of water in reservoirs and aquifer-recharge areas. Residential development increases the demand for water while reducing the open space that absorbs rainwater and recharges the supply of ground water. Pollution taints the water drawn from reservoirs and wells.
For maximum effectiveness of state and federal laws enacted to protect water, sound water-and land-use planning is essential. That means knowing where water will come from, how much is needed in the future, and what steps must be taken to ensure water quality.
Failure to update New Jersey’s Water Supply Master Plan since 1996 means important information is lacking. Many county water-quality management plans are out of date as well.
Restore and strengthen Clean Water Act protections.
In recent years, rollbacks of Water Quality Management Planning, septic rules in the Highlands, the Coastal Area Facility Review Act, and other rules and regulations have jeopardized water resources and put New Jersey in a worse position to meet the state’s clean water needs. Without safe and abundant water resources, New Jersey cannot overcome the impacts of climate change.
Update the state Water Supply Master Plan.
The last Water Supply Master Plan was adopted by the NJDEP in 1996. New Jersey law requires that the plan be updated at least once every five years, but release of the update was delayed for over 15 years, costing New Jersey valuable time and depriving residents of the opportunity to evaluate strategies for maintaining an adequate supply of clean water. The DEP finally released a draft Water Supply Master Plan in spring 2017, but it is primarily a recapitulation of existing data. It fails to go into sufficient detail about vulnerable sub-watersheds and falls significantly short in proactively planning for New Jersey’s water supply needs.
The state Drinking Water Quality Institute, an expert panel responsible for developing standards for hazardous contaminants in drinking water, rarely meets. There has been very little implementation of new or more-stringent standards the DWQI has recommended for at least 12 years for about 16 contaminants.
Adopt the standards on contaminants in drinking water proposed by the Drinking Water Quality Institute.
The standards include a recommendation for the strictest health standard in the nation for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a contaminant found in Teflon, carpet cleaning products, and weather-proof fabrics.
An extensive inventory of New Jersey’s drinking water infrastructure is long overdue. Only with a clearer idea of the condition of every aspect of the system can policymakers know what is needed to rebuild water and sewer capacity and make other investments to assure residents of a safe, plentiful supply.
Conduct a comprehensive assessment of all state water programs, including an analysis of needed repairs and improvements.
The emphasis and priority should be on developing stormwater utilities, permeable pavements, and other “green infrastructure.”
THE PINELANDS AND HIGHLANDS
To protect water sources that are acutely vulnerable to climate change, the state carved out two regions for special attention—the Pinelands and the Highlands. In the Pinelands, warmer temperatures, stronger storm systems, and changing rainfall patterns increase the risk of wells drying up and salt water intruding into the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer. In the Highlands, development and climate change increase the likelihood of severe flooding and stormwater runoff, exposing water supplies to contamination.
To date, the Pinelands Commission and the Highlands Council have not directly addressed the threats posed by climate change. Neither the Pinelands Commission’s most recent five-year review of the Comprehensive Management Plan nor the Highlands Council’s Regional Master Plan, adopted in 2008, addresses climate change.
Require the Pinelands Commission and the Highlands Council to update their plans to address the impacts of climate change.