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NJDEP – Not doing enough to protect local waters

April 4, 2017

The NJDEP recently proposed a renewal to Tier A and Tier B municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4’s) permits that, while adding clarity and detail to 2009’s permits, is still not enough to improve water quality in New Jersey. More specifically, it is not strong enough on the incorporation of impaired waters into the permitting requirements or the development and implementation of Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, into permitting and planning.

Generally, a body of water can take in and clean out a certain amount of pollutants naturally based on factors such as tide, current, and water temperature. However, when the amount of pollutants exceeds the limit of what that particular body of water can remedy naturally, the waterbody becomes impaired. The continued existence of one or more pollutants in a segment of waterbody qualify that segment as impaired under The Clean Water Act and require the development of a TMDL to restore the water’s quality back to a fishable, swimmable standard. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive day-to-day and establishes the maximum amount of each pollutant a body of water can handle and still meet or exceed the state’s water quality standards. Collectively, municipalities should use TMDLs to apply discharge restrictions on pollution sources based on those identified pollutants as well as incorporate the TMDLs into the locality’s stormwater management plans.

The pollution that results from poor stormwater management planning is a significant cause of poor water quality throughout New Jersey. During storms, the rain that falls is washed over sidewalks and blacktop into storm drains and eventually makes its way through the sewer system to a local body of water. During particularly heavy rains, this already polluted runoff mixes with raw sewage on its way to the outfalls in some communities. The runoff from local streets, parking lots, and industrial complexes contains a wide variety of contaminants that wash off into those bodies of water, drastically reducing water quality and leaving many waterbodies unsafe for most recreational uses.

Stormwater runoff poses a serious threat to recreational water use, whether it’s fishing along the western shores of Staten Island or paddle boarding in Raritan Bay. Runoff from industrial sites carries harmful chemical pollutants into our local waters, sometimes mixing with human and animal waste along the way. Runoff from local streets often contains chemicals from vehicles, pesticides, fertilizers, or deicing solutions during the winter months. For instance, impairments to Raritan Bay range from mercury in fish tissue to bacteria like E. Coli, fecal coliform, and Enterococcus to chemicals like arsenic and phosphorus. While the nearby Navesink River suffers from similar bacterial impairments from E. Coli, Coliform, and Enterococcus and mercury in fish tissue. All of these impairments intensify after heavy rains, due in large part to poor stormwater management.

The end result of these waterbody impairments is not isolated to the occasional restricted access to waterbodies. Eating fish contaminated by mercury can lead to serious health issues including tremors, memory impairment, and seizures; while wading or swimming in E. Coli or Enterococcus contaminated water can cause abdominal pain and gastrointestinal illness that can range from mild to severe in form. In many cases, establishing TMDLs and enacting effective stormwater management plans can significantly reduce the potential for prolonged exposure to these impairments. Without TMDLs and stormwater management, the effects of the impairments on human health and local wildlife increase in severity and become more costly and difficult to remedy.

NY/NJ Baykeeper works with the Stormwater Coalition and many local advocacy groups to watch over the NJDEP and fight for the development and regulation of TMDLs and MS4 permits. Our work includes providing extensive commentary to the NJDEP at every stage of rule and permit proposal concerning MS4s.

Click here for NRDC’s public comments: NJ MS4 Permit Comments Apr 2017

Click here to check out NJDEP’s permitting site.

Michele Langa

Staff Attorney