Home > Uncategorized > DEP Asleep at the Switch as Drought Conditions Arise

DEP Asleep at the Switch as Drought Conditions Arise

[Update 2: 7/12/10 – speaking of profiles in shortsighted cowardice: Monmouth, Ocean water restrictions are lifted for N.J. American Water customers

Update 1: 7/9/10 – more evidence that DEP is alseeep at the switch: Clinton’s water company issues water use restrictions; violators may face fines

Officials say the water company is running very close to the maximum allocation allowed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The restrictions remain in effect until further notice.]

The Asbury Park Press reports today that the NJ American Water Company has issued mandatory water use restrictions in Monmouth County (see: Mandatory water restrictions issued for Jersey Shore – Utility cites hot, rainless conditions

RUMSON – Severely dry conditions and increased consumer water consumption are prompting New Jersey American Water Co. to issue mandatory water restrictions to its customers in Monmouth County, officials said.

Until further notice, residents are urged to discontinue outdoor water use such as lawn watering and car washing and nonessential indoor water use, a company spokesman said.

The company issued a water advisory to curb water use over the holiday weekend on Friday. High temperatures, heavy water demand and drought-like conditions in June prompted the company to enact restrictions.

But we thought regulating water use, warning the public, and responding to drought conditions was DEP’s job, not that of a private water company.

So where is DEP? NJ has had record heat and low rainfall for over a month.

Last week, Martin found time to issue a wildfire advisory – COMMISSIONER MARTIN URGES WILDFIRE AWARENESS HEADING INTO HOLIDAY WEEKEND. That release noted drought like conditions, so DEP obviously is aware of the conditions on the ground.

Why is a private water company issuing water restrictions? How are they going to monitor and enforce them? Does NJ American have legal enforcement powers?

DEP is legally charged with supervising and managing the State’s water supply. The NJ Water Supply Management Act empowers the Governor to declare a state of water supply emergency and directs the DEP Commissioner to regulate water, monitor drought conditions, issue drought warnings, implement controls during a declared drought emergency, and enforce water restrictions.

The water supply problem does not have to be statewide before DEP can act – DEP can respond to local problems.

DEP is supposed to monitor indicators and issue drought advisories and voluntary water conservation measures long before conditions get so severe that mandatory water use restrictions are imposed.

The NJ State Water Supply Plan provides the science, policy, and overall management framework to address these concerns. But the Plan is outdated and the mandatory 5 year update is over 10 years late.

DEP’s drought indicators were last updated on June 23, almost 2 weeks ago. [Update: if a drought emergency that requires mandatory restrictions can emerge in Monmouth County with no DEP warning, that strongly suggests that DEP monitoring and/or drought indicators are seriously flawed. The only other possibility is that DEP intentionally failed to warn the public].

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is either incompetent – or he ideologically opposed to regulatory intervention in favor of private sector controls.

Perhaps DEP’s failure to adequately monitor and respond to the emerging drought problem reflects Martin’s bias, as he was a public water system privatizer as a consultant before he landed at DEP.

Wanaque Reservoir levles look fine (on July 1, 2010), but that can change in a hurry with extreme heat, high demand, and no rainfall.

Wanaque Reservoir looks fine (on July 1, 2010), but that can change in a hurry with extreme heat, high demand, and no rainfall.

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  1. Bill Wolfe
    July 5th, 2010 at 12:51 | #1

    I want to post the below email note from a reader – he raises a good point. Of course, private water companies have lead in responding to emergent condtions. And reply this comment allows me to clarify that I did not say that private water companies have no role. Plus I think DEP regulations require notification to DEP:

    “just one suggestion. The water purveyors *do* know if there are system issues, ie last year XXXXX water had one of the big tanks up the block from me down for relining and repair, and they issued voluntary watering bans because they knew the supply/pressure would be low and refill of tank would take a while. There may be other system issues internally as well that I would not expect the DEP to be aware of at all times.”

  1. July 6th, 2010 at 18:11 | #1
  2. August 5th, 2010 at 15:04 | #2
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