Water quality and quantity in the Garden State
Speaking at ANJEC's annual Environmental Congress, Executive Director Jennifer Coffey brought focus to the fundamental issues of water quantity and quality in New Jersey. She spoke about the September 2015 drought watch placed on 12 out of 21 counties in New Jersey. Ironically, as drinking water supplies were shrinking in those counties, sporadic heavy rainfall caused increasingly destructive flooding. We tend to have either too little or too much water, Coffey observed.
While the effects of severe flooding and water shortages are easy to see, what is less visible is the fact that almost all of our streams fail to meet State Water Quality Standards. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Integrated Report of 2012 revealed that most streams failed because one or more pollutants surpassed the allowed maximum level in surface waters. This pollution degrades stream ecosystems and impairs recreational status.
The people of New Jersey owns all the water within the Garden State, both below and above ground, and it is the State's responsibility to manage these waters for the benefit of citizens, Coffey stressed. The State is currently 15 years overdue in planning for our water supply. In 1981 the New Jersey Legislature passed the Water Supply Management Act, NJSA 58:1A-2, which states:
“The Legislature finds and declares that the water resources of the State are public assets of the State, held in trust for its citizens and are essential to the health, safety, economic welfare, recreational and aesthetic enjoyment, and general welfare, of the people of New Jersey; that ownership of these assets is in the State as trustee of the people; that because some areas within the State do not have enough water to meet their current needs and provide an adequate margin of safety, the water resources of the State and any water brought into the State must be planned for and managed as a common resource from which the requirements of the several regions and localities in the State shall be met……..”
To implement this legislation, the State created the Water Supply Advisory Council and released the first New Jersey Water Supply Plan (NJWSP). This Plan reports on the status of the water supply in the State and guides public use of our aquifers, reservoirs, rivers and streams. The NJWSP is required to be updated every five years, but our State last updated it in 1996. Coffey emphasized knowing the status of the State’s water supply and planning accordingly is critical to sustainable water management and especially important to areas of unique ecosystems like the Pinelands and the Highlands.
Expend open space funds the way voters intended
Voters chose once again to overwhelming support preservation of New Jersey’s last remaining and precious open spaces, waterways, parks, farms and historic sites. In November, 65 percent of voters approved Public Question 2, dedicating a portion of existing corporate business tax revenues (CBT) to fund the now-depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation programs.
It is now time to ensure those funds are distributed according to the voter’s intent. Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Christie’s budget calls for using $20 million of voter-approved CBT funds to pay for over 300 state park management staff. Park management staff are critical to keeping New Jersey’s parks safe and open to the public, and those staff should be supported through the general fund as they have been in the past.
Sens. Bob Smith, Christopher “Kip” Bateman and Assemblyman John McKeon have introduced legislation that takes a reasonable approach to allocating the limited funds available for preservation and stewardship for the next four years. Funding levels will rise in 2019 when the portion of existing CBT revenues dedicated increases from 4 percent to 6 percent, and as CBT revenues grow over time.
But until then, the available CBT funds will amount to less than half of what has traditionally been available for preservation, and allocating $20 million to state park staffing rather than putting those funds toward preservation and stewardship projects runs counter to the voters’ intent to protect New Jersey’s last remaining open spaces.
According to state agencies, an additional 650,000 acres of natural and water resource lands still need protection, and at least 350,000 acres of farmland need to be preserved to keep the garden in the Garden State. Smith, Bateman and McKeon’s legislation recognizes these priorities by allocating the lion’s share of the funding to the Green Acres and Farmland Preservation Programs.
The Green Acres Program has also greatly benefitted urban areas by supporting the development of more than 1,100 parks. The legislation allocates the largest percentage of Green Acres funds to county and local governments so they can continue important work to ensure that all residents have access to quality parks and green spaces, especially in our cities.
The legislative proposal for the funds authorized by voters last fall recognizes the importance of continuing to care for our existing parks and preserved lands to protect their natural, recreational and historic values for the public. The state Department of Environmental Protection would continue to receive $15 million annually for capital improvements on state lands as well as stewardship projects to protect, enhance or restore the ecological health of our public lands. Staff salaries would continue to be funded through the general fund.
The need for better stewardship of preserved lands and parks extends beyond state lands, and voters also authorized the use of funds to care for those preserved lands. The legislative proposal would allocate a modest portion of funds to counties, local governments and nonprofit organizations for stewardship projects.
Nonprofits are effective in leveraging state funds with local and private funds to complete preservation and stewardship projects. Nonprofits would be required to leverage their own funds and provided a 2-to-1 match for state funds.
Public Question 2 also continues baseline funding for vital environmental programs including watershed management, underground storage tank removal, hazardous site remediation and brownfields. NJ Keep in Green supports fully funding these programs as well as the operations and staffing of the DEP divisions of Parks and Forestry, and Fish and Wildlife through the annual budget.
Despite a challenging fiscal climate in the state, New Jersey voters gave a resounding “Yes” to continuing preservation efforts for the 14th time in the state’s history. It provides reliable funding that will grow over time and can address a broad array of preservation, stewardship, park and environmental needs in the most densely populated state in the nation.
Legislative leaders served the state well in advancing this measure to the ballot, and they can do the same by passing sound implementing legislation and fully funding DEP staffing and programs through the budget.
By Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director
This article appeared in the Asbury Park Press on June 23, 2015.
For over 44 years, the Association of NJ Environmental Commissions has worked throughout New Jersey
to help establish and support environmental commissions and educate local officials and concerned citizens about how to protect the environment and foster sustainable communities.
We also advocate for sound public policies and coordinate organizations interested in environmental issues.
Our 2,600 municipal members represent over 350 municipalities and all 21 counties of New Jersey.
Most members serve as volunteers in their communities, advising their municipal governments on sustainability, environmental issues and land use, educating residents, stewarding open space, performing studies and making recommendations on a host of local environmental concerns.
ANJEC is a 501c3, non-profit organization, and we welcome your support.
Setting your community's environmental intentions
Happy New Year! The New Year brings with it resolutions. Some of my friends consider them, others commit with fervor, and a few take the added steps to create implementation plans to achieve their resolutions. (A select few even schedule check-in evaluation times throughout the year – overachievers!)
Personally, I stopped making resolutions a few years ago. I have found more success working backwards. Instead, I develop a vision for what I want certain aspects of my life to look like and develop a plan to work towards it. I have found that small steps are key to achieving success. I credit my parents for teaching me this strategy early in my life by asking me regularly, “What are you going to do about it?”
I was accurately aware of and sensitive to the environmental impacts of dirty air on the asthmatic lungs of my sister and me. I was also tuned into the inequities of garbage in my urban neighborhood, but not in that of extended family living in rural and suburban neighborhoods. My parents asked me often, “What are you going to do about it?” It took me nearly 40 years to apply this lesson to New Year’s resolutions.
What are you going to do about it?
At the dawn of 2016, I ask you, environmental commissioners, what is your environmental vision for your community? Do you want clean water and to reduce raw, untreated sewage spilling into your streets and streams from combined sewer overflow systems? Do you want clean air and to have your mayor, committee, or commission possess the ability to address the cumulative impacts of air pollution from traffic and industry? Do you want to achieve litter-free lands and trash-free waters by focusing on reducing and reusing so that we can move beyond stream cleanups and beach sweeps? Do you want to reduce the frequency and intensity of flooding in your community? Do you want to improve open space habitat?
ANJEC is here is help you. Our experienced, expert staff can help you develop strategies to move you towards achieving your environmental vision. ANJEC’s Resource Center includes sample plans, legal research, sample ordinances and resolutions on a gamut of environmental issues, as well as public health and safety matters facing New Jersey residents.
Our environmental commissioners’ courses in February and March will provide an overview of how to successfully carry out your roles and responsibilities under the law while serving your community. ANJEC’s open space grants applications are open in the spring. The grant money is designed to help environmental commissions to implement stewardship projects that enhance open space with an eye towards healthy habitats and green infrastructure to achieve cleaner water and reduced flooding.
Our year-round workshops are focused on how you can address the specific issues facing New Jersey. Our workshop topics are often chosen in response to the inquiries we receive in our staffed Resource Center. Our quarterly magazine, the ANJEC Report, and our ANJEC News e-newsletter strive to keep you informed and up to date on environmental issues and solutions around the state and throughout the world.
Please call us with your questions at (973) 539-7547 or email us at email@example.com. Social media is a growing form of communication for ANJEC, so please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @ANJECtweets. We are here to support you because we truly believe local environment matters!