Trenton — More than one thousand water bodies across New Jersey are too polluted for fishing or swimming and are supposed to be cleaned up to meet Clean Water Act requirements, according to the latest state report. These new figures show continuing water quality declines due to the state’s inability to control sprawl or adequately fund clean water infrastructure, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The Draft 2008 Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report posted this week paints a disturbing portrait of New Jersey waters:
- Every area assessed for fish consumption failed to pass muster because the contaminant levels in fish were high enough to issue a consumption advisory or ban;
- More than two-thirds of recreational waters (68%) assessed did not met swimming health standards; and
- One in three assessed drinking water supplies did not meet standards.
“These findings are troubling – what one would expect to find in a Third World country rather than in one of the richest states in the U.S.,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), noting that the most significant regulatory findings are buried in an appendix at the end of the report. “Even more disturbing is that while our waters continue to get worse, there is no coherent, adequately funded, and enforceable plan for turning things around.”
New Jersey’s waters are plagued not only by point-source pollution from industrial and sewage discharges but also from nonpoint pollution in the form of run-off of pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, animal waste and oil and grease from roads. Sprawling development increases the nonpoint damage as pollution is now reaching waters that were previously pristine. Every year, New Jersey, already the nation’s most densely populated state, continues to lose thousands of acres of farmland, forests and open space to development.
PEER points to a DEP clean water strategy which continues to rely on local zoning and a voluntary “watershed planning” process. At the same time, state funding is not keeping up with a crumbling clean water infrastructure. Even more fundamentally, DEP water quality standards, permitting and clean-up programs suffer from a lack of scientific rigor and enforcement vigor.
“It is vital that the people in the Garden State start demanding clean water now,” Wolfe added. “Folks should look at the ‘priority list’ in Appendix B to see that the DEP ranks many critically important waters in their neighborhoods as a low or moderate priority for cleaning up.”
A “public information session” briefing by DEP on the report will be held this Thursday, September 11, starting at 1:30 PM in the Public Hearing Room at its Headquarters, 401 East State Street, 1st Floor, in Trenton. Information about where to submit comments on the report is listed below.
The public can submit comments to DEP on the report to:
Water Standards and Assessment
P.O. Box 409
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability