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Dirty Water in Jersey

A healthy stream flows - but not in Jersey (Harriman Park, NY)

A healthy stream flows – but not in Jersey (Harriman Park, NY)

[Update: 1/16/12 – Here is a link to the Asbury Park Press Series “Tainted Waters” – haven’t read it all yet – more to follow.]

Kirk More and Todd Bates have a major 3 part clean water series running today over at the Courier Post, so I urge you to go on over and read the whole thing, see:

Troubled water – After 40 years, NJ’s waters are far from clean – Almost all waterways in the state are still polluted after 40 years and billions of dollars in cleanup efforts

Since I often write about clean water issues, spoke with Todd on the story, and have done a lot of work over the years on clean water, I thought I’d offer a few of my own thoughts, while providing a respectful critique of Kirk and Todd’s opening salvo.

Plus, I can say some things here as a blogger that Kirk and Todd obviously can not.

The initial thrust of the story is to suggest a shocking across the board major failure in NJ’s clean water program.

While I am deeply disturbed by NJ’s diminishing efforts and the quality of NJ’s water resources – and I think is is very important to warn the public of the serious magnitude and scope of the problem – I don’t think that overall characterization is accurate or fair.

Anyone paying attention is aware of the problems.

As we’ve written here several times, DEP submits a comprehensive statewide Report to EPA and Congress every 2 years under the Clean Water Act that lays them all out (see: DEP’s 2010 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report

That blunt overall perspective of across the board failure lacks the nuance necessary to distinguish between the clean water tools that we know work, those that truly have failed, and what we need to do in the future.

A conclusion that there has been 40 years of across the board failure also absolves policy makers of any accountability – if everything is broken then basically all DEP Commissioner’s and their policy agenda’s are the same: they all are bad.

But that is not true.

In my interview with Todd, I emphatically distinguished the tools we know work from those that have failed, and I traced the policy history of Administrations and DEP Commissioner’s who had aggressive records from those that failed.

For example, there could be no greater contrast between DEP Commissioner Campbell’s clean water agenda, which included Category One designations, 300 foot buffers, removal of environmentally sensitive land from sewer service areas, and development and enforcement of phosphorus nutrient standards – and the Commissioner Martin across the board rollback agenda.

In general, I noted that progress has resulted from an approach that is based on: 1) huge investments in infrastructure; 2) science based strict regulatory standards; 3) integrated planning and regulation; and 4) strict and sometimes mandatory enforcement.

In contrast, failures have resulted from a hands off approach that relies on voluntary, local, private sector partnership, and market based “incentives”.

This is particularly important because the Christie Administration is dismantling the package of policy tools that we know work and replacing it with what we know doesn’t work.

As the story documented:

The DEP has dissolved its Division of Watershed Management, which was tasked with reducing pollution in watersheds. Several local watershed groups, including one that covered the Manasquan River watershed, also have faded away. A watershed is the land that drains into a stream, lake, bay or the ocean. The federal government says reducing pollution in watersheds is the best way to clean up waterways and has developed a 2011 Healthy Watersheds Initiative. The DEP watershed division’s functions have been transferred to other parts of the agency, which continues to work on watershed issues, according to DEP officials. The DEP plans to use its Barnegat Bay restoration project as a model for protecting other watersheds and improving water quality. […]

DEP Spokesman Ragonese said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s goal is to “focus on our core mission (protecting the air, land, water and natural resources), to be more efficient and to jettison things that are less important so we can focus on the core.”

So, the Christie rollback is being portrayed – without criticism – as the model for the future.

The complete failure view also supports and opens the door to a totally wrongheaded and misleading set of conclusions and solutions that are captured in this quote:

Sean T. Dixon, coastal policy lawyer with Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook- based coalition, said the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 “wasn’t designed for a 60-, 70-, 80-year life span. It was designed to address problems 30, 40 years ago, so we need a new set of solutions.”

They include investing in wastewater treatment systems, new pipelines, other infrastructure, water recycling and new technologies, he said.

That’s a crock of shit, my friends – and shocking coming from a so called “coastal policy lawyer” (whatever the hell that is).

So, let’s take those claims one at a time:

1. Contrary to the impression created by that quote, the Clean Water Act is not some “quaint” ancient dinosaur – it has worked and needs to be enforced, not abandoned.

The biggest loopholes in the Act that require closing deal with failure to regulate agriculture and land use and to impose regulatory standards on non-point source pollution.

But they were political concessions made back in 1972 – that still hold today – and have nothing to do with the age of the Act.

If anything, they suggest a need for renewed and aggressive political advocacy by environmentalists – the kind of activist grassroots protest efforts that created the political demands on Congress that led to passage of the Clean Water Act – not new technologies or pipes as Dixon suggests.

Furthermore, the land use driven non-point source pollution control weaknesses of the Act can be addressed by enforcing other provisions of the CWA – directly and indirectly – including the Section 208 “areawide water quality management planning” provisions, and the Section 303 “water quality standards” “anti degradation policy” and “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) programs.

The combined sewer overflow (CSO) problem will need leadership and planning from Trenton, based on an integrated enforcement and financing effort. Perhaps Baykeeper’s lawsuit and petition will spur action on that front.

But all these observations are inconvenient truths to those that support Governor Christie and DEP Commissioner “core mission – Do Less with Less – customer service” Sloganeer- in-Chief Martin.

Governor Christie and his DEP Hatchet Man Bob Martin are dismantling what works:

Many serious pollutants are not currently regulated and current standards need to be tightened in light of new science and new problems (more to follow on this issue).

But DEP Comisisoner Martin has issued a moratorium on new regulatory standards by DEP. The failure to move forward with nitrogen standards in Barnegat Bay is just one illustration of this Martin policy.

Worse, he has outsourced and privatized the development of standards by delegating those functions to a new industry influenced Science Advisory Board.

Martin not only dismantled DEP’s watershed planning Division and transferred Director Larry Baier to enforcement.

He has replaced that DEP driven integrated watershed based planning and regulatory model with a voluntary, locally driven, “partnership” model, which is based on the failed local Barnegat Bay Partnership.

Martin also issued an Administrative Order extending the implementation of the DEP’s Clean Water Act Section 208 based Water Quality Management Planning rules.

This Order providing the impetus and green light for the recent legislative attack.

Obviously, governor Christie will not veto THAT bill.

Martin has opposed any efforts to improve DEP’s ability to regulate noin-point source pollution via the multitude of growth management, infrastructure, planning, and regulatory tools in DEP’s arsenal (including CAFRA and the Water Supply Management Act).

This is a formula designed to fail.

  • Investment in Infrastructure

NJ has a $28 billion clean water infrastructure deficit.

But Governor Christie is ideoligically opposed to raising the public revenues required to close this deficit and stem the decline and restore water quality.

That is why Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed few to be imposed on development to fund storm water management, the number one problem in the Barnegat Bay watershed.

  • Enforcement

The Christie administration ideologically prefers voluntary and partnership efforts over regulatory mandates and enforcement.

The Christie veto of the Barnegat Bay Clean Water Act “TMDL” legislation is just one illustration of this ideology in operation.

  • Independent science

The Clean Water Act implementation has been driven by independent university based and EPA science.

DEP’s Division of Science and Research has been abolished and DEP science capabilities greatly diminished.

Independent and public science has been outsourced to the new DEP Science Advisory Board .

Given the corporate interests on that Board, we can expect gridlock and/or rollbacks.

2. The second major falacy in the above quote relates to the claims regarding the need for new pipelines, water recycling, and new technologies (desalination?).

Pipelines are engineering solutions that merely shift a problem from one place to the other. They create even more “infrastructure capacity” to support even higher levels of unsustainable sprawl development.

In the nation’s most densely populated state, the last thing we need is more technological solutions.

Of all people, a coastal policy expert should understand why regionalizing the coastal sewage treatment plants and huge ocean discharge pipes have destroyed the coastal zone.

Regionalization of huge treatment plants and dumping via ocean outfalls have provided enormous capacity to support explosive levels of growth and development. This has dramatically increased impervious surfaces and non-point pollution.

The demand for drinking water to satisfy over-development – coupled with one way ocean discharge and loss of groundwater recharge from impervious surfaces – has resulted in mining groundwater. This greatly reduces stream base flows, impairs ecological function, and accelerates salt water intrusion.

Wastewater recycling is the next iteration of this engineering insanity.

Pipelines and technologies have been a disaster. We don’t need more of that.

Well, we’ll leave it at that for now – more to follow based on parts 2 and 3 of the series.

We close with this head in the sand idiot of the day quote from DEP, which is shocking in light of the data on how NJ waters have degraded:

Kerry Kirk Pflugh, DEP manager of public participation and stakeholder involvement, said in an email that “as new technologies become available to treat water and restoration efforts get implemented, the waters will continue to improve.”

“Continue to improve”? WTF!

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  1. Clorinda Montalvo
    January 16th, 2012 at 15:10 | #1

    Thanks again for pointing out how the current DEP management says one thing and does another. It is probably worth noting that DEP has also disbanded its coastal planning element in addition to watershed management, land planning (smart growth), and water quality planning groups. So without these planning elements where is implementation and coordination occurring? Oh – through regulation?

    With regard to your statements on Barnegat Bay – the problems with BB can be directly linked to development but all attempts to address a SAMP – Special Area Management Plan for that area are NOT directed at managing development. Not really sure what they’re doing with regard to this proposed approach – hasn’t been mentioned in recent press releases. The Governor’s 10 Point Plan seems pretty weak on deliverables that improve water quality in any measureable timeframe. Nearly $60M (in two years)in state funding is being directed at retrofitting stormwater basins (and purchasing machines to clean streets) but there’s no data that these are the basins that contribute to the problems in the bay. And $60M to one watershed that has relatively little documentation that the stormwater discharge and not other non-point discharge is the culprit seems lacking in the ‘science based approach’directive. Granted there’s a major water monitoring program proposed in the Bay but how long (and is it even possible to)will it take to get data on the impact of retrofitting these basins (which are at the headwaters of the watershed)on water quality of the Bay? A TMDL might help both coordinating the stormwater input as well as the development issues in a more timely fashion. Yes, timely is the key phrase – hasn’t the DEP and EPA been trying to develop a TMDL for 10 years or so?
    Kudos to BB for recognizing stormwater, fertilizers and soil compaction as problems but without additional changes to patterns of development and contributions from CSO’s and infrastructure retrofits the BB will continue to have water quality problems. Maybe the BB Partnership (funded through EPA) should develop its own TMDL and compel it to be implemented at local level (through compliance with CWA)as it doesn’t look like DEP is going to do it for them.

    Oh – what about the interbasin transfer of water from the Delaware River that is necessary to support the continued growth in the BB watershed – think that will effect a TMDL?

    Sorry to pick only on the BB but now it seems that the DEP (or at least this administration) is looking to develop a statewide model – will there be funding available to do this elsewhere? Doubt this administration will be around when and if the model is complete or in a position to determine whether it was successful…

    I look forward to reading your continued insights.

  2. January 16th, 2012 at 15:44 | #2

    @Clorinda Montalvo

    Thanks for a really knowledgeable comment.

    With this Martin group, there is no planning and coordination. They simply don’t believe in planning (look what’s happening to the State Plan). Everything is case by case and based on partisan politics or market conditions.

    Agee on lack of science for targeting and evaluating BB storm water investments/upgrades. It is ironic, in that a TMDL would be exactly the vehicle to derive the most coset effective strategies! And Martin views himself as a private sector expert on the bottom line efficiency!

    I’ve written about soil compaction. You should know that the bill Christie signed was gutted by amendments and will do nothing to address site preparation, soil management, construction and restoration practices.

    I met with Senator Beck, sponsor of the fertilizer nitrogen bill. She mistakenly thought I was a trusted R and during our meeting bragged that she had met with Scott’s who told her the bill was OK and would do nothing to change or reduce the n in their products. Beck also bragged about exempting golf courses and softening enforcement on landscape and lawn care industries. So that bill also is a joke.

    Why ENGO’s supported both is beyond me – do they not know they are duped?

    The Barnegat Bay Partnership will NEVER develop a TMDP or any other enforceable water quality or land use regulation. They were created nationally as a ALTERNATIVE to “command and control” top down regulation. That’s what the national estuary program was all about and why Whitman supported their adoption in BB.

    I worked on the 1997 Watershed bill and the prior CBT constitutional amendment to dedicate 4% of CBT to environmental programs at DEP, including watershed management. Prior to that, I was involved with Marty Bierbaum who developed the watershed planning concept at DEP during Scott Weiner tenure at DEP. (although I was trained as a planner, I was an advocate of stronger links between planning and regulation)

    So, with that history in mind, I can tell you that there is NO WAY that the Martin folks have a clue – or have any intention of investing statewide resources in their new BB “model”.

    No way at all!

  1. June 1st, 2012 at 11:56 | #1
  2. October 18th, 2012 at 12:13 | #2
  3. September 3rd, 2015 at 01:46 | #3
  4. September 8th, 2015 at 19:00 | #4
  5. September 10th, 2015 at 17:12 | #5
  6. October 4th, 2015 at 08:22 | #6
  7. October 9th, 2015 at 12:16 | #7
  8. November 7th, 2015 at 07:59 | #8
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