Draft Revisions to Statewide Water Supply Plan

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released draft revisions to the NJ Statewide Water Supply Plan on May 1, 2017. They have scheduled four public meetings this summer on the draft proposal.

What is the Water Supply Master Plan?

The New Jersey Water Supply Management Act, approved in 1981, recognizes that water resources are public assets that the State holds in trust for its citizens and requires that the state create a Water Supply Master Plan. You can review the Act here.

This legislation entrusts the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with primary responsibility to ensure that New Jersey can cope with all foreseeable water needs and prescribes that DEP develop and periodically update the New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan.

This plan estimates the amount of water that was withdrawn from each watershed in an effort to determine if there was sufficient remaining water to support future water supply withdrawals, suitable water quality, protect and maintain aquatic resources, and defer saltwater intrusion. If a watershed had ample remaining water to maintain these uses, that watershed was concluded to be in “surplus.” If a watershed did not possess ample water to maintain these uses, that watershed was concluded to be in “deficit.”

New Jersey’s Water Supply Master Plan was last updated in 1996. Nearly 20 years ago.


Draft Revisions Released May 2017

The DEP finally recently released a draft plan titled New Jersey Water Supply Plan 2017-2022 on May 1, 2017. It is the first revision to the 1996 Plan. By law it should have been released before 2003. With regards to protecting natural resources, this Plan is slightly better at recognizing the needs of our natural resources than the 1996 Plan. However, the Plan is really not a plan. It is more of a snapshot of existing conditions, with nebulous references to possible solutions. This is unfortunate since the Plan identifies a number of watersheds that are already stressed, or will be shortly.

The plan identifies that four (4) of the State's 20 watershed management areas as currently being stressed, with fifteen (15) more becoming stressed if authorized water permits are fully utilized.

However, the problem is actually much worse than noted for two reasons. First, watershed management areas are made up of a number of watersheds. Environmental impacts from ground water and surface water withdrawals occur at the watershed and subwatershed scale. Even at the watershed scale (which is approximately 65 square miles in the Pinelands) the plan identifies numerous watersheds that are stressed. Second, the fact that 15 watershed management areas will be stressed at fully authorized allocation, indicates that DEP has allocated water beyond what is sustainable. And when it comes to withdrawals from the shallow aquifer and streams in stressed watersheds, the environment is the big loser!

Currently Stressed Watershed Management Areas: According to the draft revisions the following watershed management areas are already stressed. You can see a map of the watershed management areas here.

  • WMA 7 - Arthur Kill
  • WMA 6 - Upper and Middle Passaic, Whippany and Rockaway
  • WMA 15 - Great Egg Harbor (Pinelands)
  • WMA 17 - Maurice, Salem and Cohansey (Pinelands)

Next Steps & What You Can Do:

The DEP will hold three public meetings to collect feedback on the draft revisions. They will consider comments made at those meetings and any comments received by the close of business July 21, 2017 before formally adopting the plan. According to the DEP's press release they will consult with other organizations like the New Jersey Water Supply Advisory Council, the Highland Water Protection and Planning Council and the Pinelands Commission as well as with private and public water purveyors.

Attend a public meeting and share your thoughts.

Public Meeting Dates

  • Tuesday, July 11 at 1:00 PM, NJDEP, 401 East State Street, Trenton
  • Tuesday, July 11 at 6:00 PM, USGS, 3450 Princeton Pike, Lawrence Township
  • Wednesday, July 12 at 3:00 PM, Millburn Public Library, 200 Glen Avenue, Millburn
  • Thursday, July 13 at 1:00 PM, Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris Drive, Galloway, Campus Center, Board of Trustees Room

Public comment will be accepted until close of business on Friday, July 21, 2017 and can be sent by email to watersupply@dep.nj.gov – please write “Draft Water Supply Plan Comments” in the Subject Line.

Comment is also accepted by mail:

NJDEP-Division of Water Supply & Geoscience
Mail Code 401-04Q
P.O. Box 420
401 East State Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
Subject: Draft Water Supply Plan Comments

For more information: http://www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/wsp.html

Talking Points

We know that the draft water supply master plan is a lot to go through and understand. In our opinion the most important point to make is this:

 

The plan identifies eight watersheds in the Pinelands (and other watersheds throughout the state) that have zero available water. The DEP should not grant additional water to new or existing users in these watersheds. There is nothing in the draft Water Supply Master Plan that would prevent the DEP from continuing to allocate water for human use from these watersheds.

Other Points

  1. The draft plan fails to recognize the unique role of the Pinelands Commission in water supply planning. The Commission is tasked with managing growth within 56 municipalities of the New Jersey Pinelands through the Pinelands Comprehensive Management plan. The draft plan states that DEP coordinates with the Commission to ensure that the water supply permits it issues comport with the Pinelands Plan goals and objectives. Yet, DEP continues to issue new and increased allocations for water in Pinelands watersheds that it has identified as being in a water supply deficit. This is not a sustainable practice.
  2. There is no discussion in the draft plan discussing the fact that ground and surface water can be exported up to 10-miles beyond the boundary of the Pinelands National Reserve. This means that water can be exported into Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth Counties, the barrier islands from Mantoloking, Ocean County south to North Wildwood, Cape May County, and to the Delaware River in Camden County. Future water supply demands in this vast area will place greater stress on Pinelands aquifers.
  3. The draft plan notes that per capita potable water use has decreased from 155 gallons per day per person in 1990 to 125 gallons per day in 2015. The savings is not due to any major policy decisions by NJDEP, but to more efficient indoor plumbing fixtures such as toilet, clothes washers, showerheads, and faucets.
  4. Savings in indoor water use is being overshadowed by the increase from outdoor water use, primarily watering lawns. As much as one-third of all potable water is lost during any given month in the summer. There is a lack of will of our state and local regulators to rein in excessive outdoor water use. The draft plan merely recycles the water conservation element of the 1996 plan. The plan is silent on any meaningful policy recommendations regarding outdoor water use.
  5. The draft plan identifies eight watersheds in the Pinelands that currently have zero available water. Also, if permit holders were to use the maximum amount they are allowed, nineteen watersheds in the Pinelands would become stressed. Statewide, 78 of the State's 151 watersheds would be stressed at full utilization. This clearly indicates that the DEP has over-allocated water beyond what is sustainable. The draft plan needs to include policy recommendations to prevent watersheds from going into a deficit condition.

If you have any questions, please contact Rich Bizub, Director for Water Programs at rich@pinelandsalliance.org or (609) 859-8860 ext. 116.

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