The recently passed legislation to delay the Water Quality Management Planning rules will not only open up 300,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands to sprawl and high density development, but changes the whole planning process in New Jersey.
The rules determine where sewer lines can go, determining where future growth can occur. The new legislation delays the rules, allowing sewers to be extended into areas where there is not even sewerage capacity. Counties with only a partial plan in place could extend sewers or give a site amendment without understanding or knowing all the impacts caused by that decision. Rolling back these rules will lead to more flooding, more pollution to our water supply streams and reservoirs, and loss of more open space.
This legislation was not only opposed by environmentalists but by former governors Tom Kean and Brendan Byrne. The EPA opposes the legislation and sent a letter to the Legislature saying it violates the Clean Water Act.
State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin is more concerned about public relations than providing protections for environmental sensitive areas including wetlands, stream buffers, water supply intakes and areas of threatened and endangered species.
Most county plans are completed or near completion, but many are being delayed by DEP attempts to add places back into sewer service that the county would like removed, such as environmentally sensitive areas around the Swimming River Reservoir in Monmouth, near the Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon, in the Sourland Mountains in Somerset, and farmland in Middlesex. The administration is pushing on behalf of their contributors and developer friends.
The 2008 rules were carefully crafted by the Corzine administration with input from a variety of stakeholders. They were a compromise amongst all stakeholders, including the development community. After the rules were adopted, the developers sued and lost in court. They are now turning to Governor Christie and the Legislature to undue the protections the courts have upheld.
The original rules were based on best available data and have been ground-truthed by the counties that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing the data. The state has received millions in federal dollars to do these rules. Now the DEP wants to delay any action by those counties for up to two years. The delay is not being used to get the data right, the data is correct now.
The administration is using the delay to rewrite and weaken the rules, just like they are doing with Highlands, Category One, storm water, and other critical water regulations. The commissioner’s proposed waiver rule would allow the Department to waive all these environmental criteria, allowing development in New Jersey’s most sensitive open spaces.
Barnegat Bay will suffer the most from the delay and environmental roll backs. The governor’s 10 point plan for the bay does not deal with land use and this legislation could put 30,000 environmentally sensitive areas around the bay back into sewer service. This will add more pollution and development to the watershed.
The rules also regulate development on septic systems. One third of private wells are polluted due to overdevelopment impacting groundwater. These rules are being rewritten and weakened now too.
New Jersey is already suffering from too much water pollution. 77 percent of New Jersey’s waterways do not meet all uses – drinking, swimming, and fishing – under the Clean Water Act. Only one stream in the whole state meets all needs, the Flat Brook in Sussex County, and that could be targeted for growth under the governor’s State Strategic Plan
Commissioner Martin has put out more press statements than any other DEP Commissioner in a similar timeframe. This is because his policies are so bad that he has to try to twist the facts since they do not add up. Instead of protecting our waterways, he his spinning the administration’s rollbacks to our environmental protections.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.