Home > Uncategorized > As Drought Conditions Worsen, Chaos Emerges and DEP Failures Become Visible

As Drought Conditions Worsen, Chaos Emerges and DEP Failures Become Visible

NJ lurches from drought to floods, but Christie Rollbacks Weaken DEP Management

heron doesn't have a lot of water to wade in. Alexauken Creek, West Amwell (July 11, 2010). Stream flow is even lower today.

heron doesn’t have a lot of water to wade in. Alexauken Creek, West Amwell (July 11, 2010). Stream flow is even lower today.

[Update: 8/23/10 – as I said, “NJ lurches from drought to floods” : today’s news:

“The ground is so hard now that when it rains it’s like pouring water on concrete, it’s running off everywhere”, Ziff said. ]

[Update: 8/14/10 – perfect example of chaos and DEP abdication – AP reports that Bergen County has declared mandatory restrictions at the request of private water company via Order of County Executive.: “Bergen County Imposes mandatory water restrictions

But don’t worry, DEP said they’ll get their act together and have a draft plan by NEXT MAY!  – end updates ].

Last week, DEP finally issued a drought watch, and today said a warning or drought emergency would be issued in the next ten days unless there was significant rainfall (watch today’s NJN News Report by Ed Rodgers) (and click on “Water Supply Low (Aug. 11, 2010) – I can’t believe that as we are entering a drought, DEP says they will update the 14 year old Water Supply Master Plan, by NEXT MAY!] .

Sources in DEP advised me that private water companies are preparing their own drought emergency declarations and management plans, with little coordination with or deference to DEP regulators.

Worse, sources indicate that anticipated drought restrictions are causing chaos on the ground right now.

Quietly behind the scenes, municipalities and private water companies are scrambling to exploit their DEP water allocations and fill their tanks ahead of any restrictions, damn the consequences for the environment, the economy, or other towns and cities .

Documenting this first come/first serve “I’ve got mine Jack” chaos and lack of DEP management control of the situation, yesterday, the Bergen Record reported:

The DEP’s drought watch announcement last week “caused an immediate surge” in demand, said Colleen DeStefano, deputy executive director of the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, which runs the Wanaque and Monksville reservoirs that provide water to both municipalities and utilities. “Everyone wanted to top off their reservoirs.”

The commission supplies United Water, the Passaic Valley Water Commission and individual cities and towns from Wayne to Newark.

DeStefano said many of the commission’s municipal and utility clients have been allowed to overdraft — that is, they’re taking more water than they are normally allocated, because of the increased demand on their supplies.

The Wanaque Reservoir, which has a capacity of 29 billion gallons, is down to 17.6 billion, or 59.6 percent of capacity, compared with 93.3 percent last year at this time. “We’re concerned,” DeStefano said.

Normally, the smaller Monksville reservoir is not tapped until late in October, but the commission may have to do it sooner this year.

The “Oradell Reservoir ‘s one of four operated by United Water, which serves about 800,000 customers in Bergen and Hudson counties” is at 47 percent of capacity, said United Water spokeswoman Sonja Clark. Combined, she said, the four are at 51 percent of capacity, compared to above 90 percent last summer.

The Oradell has taken on a greenish tinge because the lower water levels have allowed seeds to germinate and grow. In addition, the hot weather has increased water temperatures, encouraging more algae to bloom.

The Wanaque reservoir system also has an emergency backup source of water pumps along the Passaic and Ramapo rivers.

Normally, the DEP does not allow the commission to pump from the rivers until September, because dwindling river flows affect pollution levels and can harm fish and wildlife. The commission has petitioned the DEP to start pumping now, but so far the state has not granted permission, DeStefano said.

Despite these serious – and worsening – problems that demand statewide coordination and control, DEP’s already weak hand is being weakened further.

The resources and capacity of DEP programs to manage the causes and effects of drought have been eroding over many years and – remarkably – are now being rolled back by the Christie Administration. Follow this – it’s not  a pretty picture:

DEP last updated the NJ Statewide Water Supply Master Plan in 1996. That Plan establishes the scientific, data, and policy framework for managing state water supplies. The law mandates that the Plan be updated every 5 years, so an update was due in 2001, nine yeas ago.

Since the last Plan Update in 1996, there have been major changes on the ground that effect water supply management:

  • water demand has soared due to population increase, more McMansion residential lawn watering, swimming pools, and golf course and agricultural irrigation;
  • water supply has been reduced due to landscape changes, higher temperatures, less rainfall, less groundwater recharge, and higher pollution levels that eliminate summer river flows in the Passaic, Pompton, Hackensack, and Raritan rivers for water supply purposes;
  • An aging infrastructure has gotten older and leakier – a multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficit has gone unfunded;
  • over 300,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and farmlands have been lost to development, which significantly modifies the hydrological cycle;
  • The ecological effects of diminished stream/river flows; loss of wetlands, riparian buffers, and vernal pools; and declining groundwater levels have become pronounced;
  • The Highlands Master Plan process documented significant deficits in many watersheds;
  • new science on water quality and unregulated pollutants has documented increasing public health and ecological risks; and
  • global warming is increasing temperatures and changing rainfall, snowfall, and spring snowmelt patterns, thus altering fundamental hydrology and creating new demand and stressors.

Obviously, all these changes demand even stronger management by DEP, yet, despite these growing challenges, the Christie Administration started off with major missteps:

  • Executive Order #2 imposed a moratorium on 12 DEP regulations, including 2 rules to update water supply regulations;
  • The Christie Transition Reports attacked the Highlands Council/RMP and DEP regulations and DEP’s role in intervening in the private sector, thus curbing the effective power of DEP regulators and empowering private water companies;
  • The Red Tape Review Process recommended that 15 other DEP regulations be reviewed for rollback, including rules related to water resource management. The 180 day Red Tape review of DEP rules is ongoing;
  • The Water Supply Master Plan process seems to have fallen into a black hole;
  • DEP Commissioner Martin blasted DEP “culture”,  issued a Reorganization, and announced a Transformation Plan. These have led to poor morale, bureaucratic chaos, and confusion. DEP is adrift; and
  • Lack of Leadership – Commissioner Martin has yet to meet with the Water Supply Advisory Council, which has been perceived as a failure to make water supply issues a priority.

We leave now with a list of just a few of the benefits and controversial issues that must be addressed in the Water Supply Master Plan Update:

1. Revisions of Safe Yields and Minimum Passing Flows in light of new hydrological and climate data, including revisions to the NJ Geological Survey Technical Memorandum 09-3  “The Hydrological Integrity Assessment Process in New Jersey”

2. Revisions of Safe Yields and Minimum Passing Flows to address Ecological Flow Goals protections and cumulative impact methodology, including new restrictions on hydro-modification of wetlands systems and alteration of stream base flow, as illustrated by the Berlin Boro well case – NJ Geological Survey GSR 29 “GUIDELINES  FOR PREPARING HYDROGEOLOGIC REPORTS FOR WATER-ALLOCATION PERMIT APPLICATIONS”;

3. Establishing Cumulative impact thresholds and ecological standards for allowable withdrawals in groundwater dependent areas, in consideration of currently unregulated withdrawals (see this historical classic);

4. Developing a management program to better restrict and impose allocation requirements on farmers.

Under current rules, a DEP issued water alllocation permit is NOT required for agricultural uses, regardless of volume or impact. An Agricultural Water Usage Certification or Agricultural Water Use Registration must be obtained from the County agricultural agent if a person has the capability to withdraw ground and/or surface water in excess of 100,000 gallons per day for agricultural, aquacultural or horticultural purposes.

5. Financing necessary infrastructure upgrades and maintenence;

6. Strengthening the regulatory framework for emerging water quality and pollution issues.

7. Creating a real source water protection policy and implementing it in DEP programs;

8. Water conservation requirements, with effective monitoring and regulatory teeth;

9. Expanded hydrological monitoring network and more robust drought indicators;

10. Beefing up DEP resources and strengthening their control over private water companies;

11. Getting the Passiac/Hackensack Safe Yield Study on track;

12. Improved integration of water supply issues in DEP land use and water resource permit programs;

13. Improving science, monitoring, and data capabilities and coordination with the Highlands Council and RMP;

14. Educating the public on the need for water conservation.

15. Developing enforceable watershed specific and ecologically sustainable water budgets.

We welcome your additions to this list, as well as thoughts on how to address each concern.

Links to Water Supply Plan:

New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan (Pdf Format)
Planning document for water supply
August 1996
New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan Appendices (Pdf Format)
Planning document for water supply
August 1996
New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan Executive Summary (Pdf Format)
Planning document for water supply
August 1996
New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan Ma
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  1. August 12th, 2010 at 00:22 | #1

    You’re kidding, right? You expect Bob “Outsource” Martin to grasp your wish list? He only knows how to pay back his buddies in the private sector and they probably drink expensive imported bottled water. Bob even looks like a dope. He was so bad at explaining the oyster “threat” that someone who I have never seen before stood in for him on tonight’s NJN broadcast that you mention. Right now we are hearing how DEP is going to be transformed yada yada yada. If DEP is so bad, why put Irene Kropp. who admits she’s been at DEP for @ 30 years, in charge of changing it? Change! The Transformation talk actually sounded a lot like Obama’s inaguration speech and we know how well he followed through on those promises. I think lobotomies all around are a requirement to work at DEP “moving forward”.

  2. August 12th, 2010 at 06:07 | #2

    Thanks Thurston (are you hungry and thirsty?).

    I agree, Bob Martin is an incompetent hack.

    Deputy Commissioner Kropp has presided over major DEP fiasco’s including the dysfunctional and way over budget NJEMS data management system and the management and privatization of the “broken” site remediation program. A case of Peter Principle, if ever there was one!

    This is no wish list – it needs to become a public demand for real substantive reforms at DEP, not private sector management PR.

  1. August 19th, 2010 at 17:42 | #1
  2. August 26th, 2010 at 07:49 | #2
  3. September 7th, 2010 at 16:31 | #3
  4. September 9th, 2010 at 11:24 | #4
  5. October 11th, 2010 at 10:28 | #5
  6. October 16th, 2010 at 12:16 | #6
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  9. March 22nd, 2011 at 21:54 | #9
  10. July 2nd, 2011 at 07:43 | #10
  11. July 2nd, 2011 at 08:01 | #11
  12. November 28th, 2011 at 17:57 | #12
  13. May 30th, 2012 at 06:50 | #13
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  16. April 28th, 2015 at 22:36 | #16
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