Still Lurching From Drought To Flood – And Still In Denial About It
[Update: 9/2/10 – today’s Star Ledger story by Maryann Spoto is another example of deep denial. It manages to report on 3 global warming driven phenomena (record heat wave, drought, and hurricane Earl) without ever even mentioning global warming. Now that is hard to do! (but of course, La Nina has gotten attention)]
Update: 8/29/10 – more evidence: “Numbers confirm it: Summer was a scorcher” ]
DEP held a public hearing yesterday on whether to expand the current drought watch for 5 northeastern counties to a drought warning or emergency.
Those steps would trigger mandatory water conservation requirements and other stronger supervisory measures by DEP to reduce demand and better control the management of public water supplies by private water companies and local utility authorities.
Last week’s heavy rainfall – 3-5 inches in some northeast portions of the state where the reservoirs are – temporarily helped moderate DEP’s drought indicators. DEP bases drought status on those indicators, and professional judgement.
The indicators are incomplete and misleading. They need to be revised to address underlying drought causes and be better suited to design and evaluate management measures.
The “million dollar rainfall” (per quote by State Climatologist Robinson) did absolutely nothing to change the underlying systemic, or structural, drought conditions that have result in repeated cycles of droughts and floods.
Those conditions primarily relate to:1) hydrology (e.g. rainfall, temperature, land use/land cover, stream flows, aquifer levels, etc), 2) infrastructure (reservoir storage, distribution infrastructure) and 3) increasing demand.
Each factor in the drought equation is bad and getting worse. I described those conditions in this recent post.
DEP’s official position is “we’re not out of the woods yet”, so let’s wait and see before either rescinding the drought watch or ramping up to a drought warning.
But DEP will sit on the sidelines and do nothing as private water company United Water meets with political officials in Bergen County to discuss lifting the mandatory water conservation measures imposed in Bergen County – a perfect illustration of exactly who is in control of NJ’s public water supplies.
Neither DEP, State Climatologist Robinson, or water purveyors were willing to talk about the underlying causes of structural drought or the need to adapt to global warming or the need to improve pollution controls and water quality.
In fact, they intentionally avoided those topics – Steve Doughty of DEP, by his own words, drifted “off script” only once, and it related to Passaic/Pompton/Ramapo water quality and pumping to Wanaque reservoir. Doughty quickly caught himself, and got back “on script”. So, the hearing was totally useless as far as I’m concerned.
Given that DEP is a regulatory agency, I testified and added the following issues to the list of issues DEP refuses to discuss in public:
1. DEP needs to publish data on water demand. As they say in business, “what gets measured gets done”.
The public has a right to know how water is used, who is using it, what they are using it for, and where the uses occur (e.g. in what economic sector and geography urban, suburban, rural) . DEP needs this data to manage water supply. It also would be a good benchmark to compare how various water companies were performing.
2. DEP needs to exert more regulatory control over private sector and local water purveyors. Right now, first come first serve anarchy prevails.
3. Infrastructure needs assessment must be part of the discussion. I highlighted this week’s hearing in Washington Township (Morris Co.) where the local system loses 40% of water to leaks. Since then, major water lines have broken, leading to boil water alerts and other problems. NJ’s infrastructure is old and getting older. How will we pay for upgrades?
4. Infrastructure investment needs to be explored – water user rates are regulated by BPU tariffs and DEP regulations. Surcharges need to be considered as a means of generating much needed revenue for investment in maintenance and upgrades.
5. Agricultural uses need to be part of the discussion and must be regulated just like all other water users.
6. The current 100,000 gallon per day use threshold for triggering DEP water allocation permitting needs to be reduced. DEP policy and allocation environmental reviews must be done in consideration of cumulative water withdrawals. DEP must develop and impose water budgets and specify whether this needs legislative or regulatory change.
7. What ever happened to the Eco-Flow Goals initiative? That project was supposed to set flow limits for NJ’s streams and rivers to protect aquatic life uses, and things like wetlands and trees and other vegetation.
8. DEP needs to establish a policy to set restrictions on inter-basin transfers by water companies. United Water mentioned ratepayer fairness, but there are significant environmental components to these transfers.
9. DEP needs to make allocation policy between competing water uses a major part of the public for discussion. This is critical and currently done behind closed doors at DEP, with the water companies and no public interest representation. DEP needs to comply with the Water Supply Planning process
10. DEP needs to revise drought indicators – things to consider include global warming driven changes (temperature, rainfall, vegetation) and landscape change (huge change in land use/land cover has altered fundamental underlying hydrology).
And will someone tell DEP staff not to bring bottled water to Public Hearings?