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Monmouth Water Emergency Illustrates Climate Change Risks and Reveals Deficits in NJ’s Adaptation Planning

June 30th, 2012 1 comment

NJ Highly Vulnerable But Not Planning for Climate Change Adaptation

 DEP Lacks Capacity to Respond

Adapt or Die

A photo from Monmouth County of the affected pipe (source: Star Ledger)

[Important updates below]

Sometimes serendipity is truly scary.

I was reading a recent Special Report by the IPCC this morning  ”Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” when I learned about the Monmouth County water emergency.

The Star Ledger reports:

MIDDLETOWN — Monmouth County officials and New Jersey American Water Company expanded the boil-water advisory this morning to 22 towns one day after a  90-foot section of a wooden bridge, which propped up the water pipes, collapsed.

Immediately, I realized that the Monmouth event illustrated  exactly what the IPCC Report was all about.

The pipeline break and water emergency reflect a complex interaction of  factors, including:

  • climate change induced extreme weather;
  • high vulnerability (see NJ coastal hazards assessment)
  • lack of effective risk assessment; and
  • deficient adaptation planning, preparedness and response capacity.

I strongly urge that you read the full IPCC Report and consider how the Monmouth water emergency fits within that framework. The extremely relevant infrastructure and tourism discussion is in Chapter 4, starting on page 248.

While the facts are not in and it is way too early to go into a full analysis of the Report here as it applies to the Monmouth emergency, let’s very quickly overview the major contributing factors.

Perhaps this outline can frame and spur followup detailed investigations and begin to develop awareness of the need for NJ to take climate change adaptation seriously and dedicate resources to prevention, planning, and response capabilities.

1. Pipeline collapse example of climate change infrastructure risks

Apparently, the bridge and pipelinemay have been damaged during hurricane Irene. Climate change models predict more frequent and severe hurricanes.

Scientists have warned for years that NJ’s coastal zone is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes and storms. That vulnerability included water infrastructure systems.

The catastrophic  failure of the pipeline occurred during a major extended heat wave, which greatly magnified the emergency response problems due to high water demand and greatly increased the negative economic impacts on summer shore tourism.

The heat wave is consistent with climate change model predictions.

2. NJ’s Infrastructure and Coastal Zone Are Highly Vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts

NJ’s water supply infrastructure is highly vulnerable.

Investments in infrastructure assets have not kept pace with need and there are huge infrastructure maintenance deficits.NJ water supply infrastucture has a $8 billion deficit.

In addition, this water pipeline was located above ground in the vulnerable coastal zone.

3. Lack of Risk Assessment, Adaptation Planning and Response Capacity

This deficit is revealingly illustrated by DEP’s own press release.

Note that the emergency declaration was made by Monmouth County, not the Governor or the DEP Commissioner pursuant to his responsibilities under the Water Supply Management Act

The Act puts the State DEP in charge, not County government.

Under the Act, infrastructure planning and the emergency response policy framework is supposed to be guided by the Statewide Water Supply Master Plan – but DEP is several years behind in updating and releasing that plan.

Similarly, the emergency response guidance to consumers comes from United Water, not DEP!

DEP has abdicated its responsibility and seems completely incapable of leading an effective response.

The really sad part is that no one even seems to recognize this massive set of problems and failures.

The IPCC Report certainly tees up those issues (EXCERPTS OF FINDINGS):

  • Coastal settlements in both developed and developing countries are exposed and vulnerable to climate extremes.For example, the major factor increasing the vulnerability and exposure of North America to hurricanes is the growth in population and increase in property values, particularly along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. Small island states are particularly vulnerable to climate extremes, especially where urban centers and/or island infrastructure predominate in coastal locations. Asia’s mega-deltas are also exposed to extreme events such as flooding and have vulnerable populations in expanding urban areas. Mountain settlements are also exposed and vulnerable to climate extremes.
  • Extreme events will have greater impacts on sectors with closer links to climate, such as water, agriculture and food security, forestry, health, and tourism. For example, while it is not currently possible to reliably project specific changes at the catchment scale, there is high confidence that changes in climate have the potential to seriously affect water management systems. However, climate change is in many instances only one of the drivers of future changes in supply reliability, and is not necessarily the most important driver at the local scale. The impacts of changes in flood characteristics are also highly dependent on how climate changes in the future, and as noted in Section 3.5.2, there islow confidence in projected changes in flood magnitude or frequency. However, based on the available literature, there is high confidence that, in some places, climate change has the potential to substantially affect flood losses. Climate-related extremes are also expected to produce large impacts on infrastructure, although detailed Analysis of potential and projected damages are limited to a few countries, infrastructure types, and sectors. 
  • Transportation, infrastructure, water, and tourism are sectors sensitive to climate extremes. Transport infrastructure is vulnerable to extremes in temperature, precipitation/river floods, and storm surges, which can lead to damage in road, rail, airports, and ports, and electricity transmission infrastructure is also vulnerable to extreme storm events. The tourism sector is sensitive to climate, given that climate is the principal driver of global seasonality in tourism demand.
  • Estimates of adaptation costs to climate change exhibit a large range and relate to different assessment periods.For 2030, the estimated global cost ranges from US$ 48 to 171 billion per year (in 2005 US$) with recent estimates for developing countries broadly amounting to the average of this range with annual costs of up to US$ 100 billion.

[Update #1: 7/1/12 - NJ State Climatologist and NJ Press corps remain in denial (read story). They claim that "derecho" (a kind of severe thunder storm) was the cause, but that is merely a description of the type of storm, not the cause of it! Again, reporters fail to connect the dots to the record setting heat wave (109) that provided the energy that drove the storm. Even the Washington Post story  acknowledged a link:

On Friday, a historic, record-setting heat wave covered a sprawling region from the Midwest to the Southeast. All-time high temperatures records of 109 were established in Nashville and Columbia, South, Carolina and tied in Raleigh and Charlotte which hit 105 and 104. Here in Washington, D.C., the mercury climbed to an astonishing 104 degrees (breaking the previous record set in 1874 and 2011 by two degrees),our hottest June day in 142 years of records.

As the intensity of the heat wave, without reservation, was a key factor in the destructiveness of this derecho event - it raises the question about the possible role of manmade climate warming (from elevated greenhouse concentrations). It’s a complicated, controversial question, but one that scientists will surely grapple with in case studies of this rare, extraordinary event. -

[Update #2 -confirming exactly what we've been saying for some time and wrote below regarding the "derecho" that hit south jersey, the Asssociated Presss reports:  This US summer is 'what global warming looks like'

"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."

Oppenheimer said that on Thursday. That was before the East Coast was hit with triple-digit temperatures and before a derecho — an unusually strong, long-lived and large straight-line wind storm — blew through Chicago to Washington. The storm and its aftermath killed more than 20 people and left millions without electricity. Experts say it had energy readings five times that of normal thunderstorms.

Fueled by the record high heat, this was one of the most powerful of this type of storm in the region in recent history, said research meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Norman, Okla. Scientists expect "non-tornadic wind events" like this one and other thunderstorms to increase with climate change because of the heat and instability, he said - end]

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Delaware Wild & Scenic River Group Joins Bull’s Island Debate

June 29th, 2012 4 comments

DEP Official Claims That Bull’s Island Sycamores Are “An Invasive Species”

The claim in that headline is not a typo or misquote. It was made by Cindy Randazzo, Director of DEP’s Local Government Assistance program to the Chair of the Alexandria Township Environmental Commission. Like her boss “customer friendly Bob”, Randazzo has no environmental training or experience.

I’m sure Larry Rangonese of the DEP press office will be relieved – he no longer holds the DEP record for the biggest whopper for his “landfill leachate is natural” claim. (runners up include former DEP Commissioner Shinn’s claim sunlight causes water pollution; DEP Press Officer Peter Page’s claim that sewage in rivers provides food for fish; and DEP water quality modeling assumption that wetlands are a pollution source). But I’m getting off topic and way ahead of myself.

Last night, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee met in Frenchtown NJ.

The Committee oversees the Management Plan for the River, which is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program. They meet quarterly, so the meeting was a big deal. And the upshot is that another set of federal eyes at NPS now join USFWS and USACE looking into the Bull’s Island “War on Killer trees” debacle

I was on the agenda and asked by NPS to give a brief presentation on Bull’s Island. There were some fireworks and absolutely amazing statements made! It became obvious that there is a lot of behind the scenes political pressure being exerted by DEP on everyone from the media to local officials (so read on! I saved the best for last!)

DEP was invited by the Committee and asked to give a presentation, a request to which they initially agreed. But in a continuing pattern of secrecy, DEP refused to show up or even send a representative to monitor the meeting. That clearly irked members of the Committee and the public.

Just prior to my presentation, the National Parks Service (NPS) member of the Committee had a highly unusual and detailed written report on Bull’s Island read out loud (she could not attend due to illness). I will provide a link as soon as I get the full document.

According to NPS, DEP said:

1. DEP will put together a “hand picked stakeholder group” in late August/early September to discuss DEP’s management plan for the Island. It will include fed, state,and  local agencies, plus ENGO’s.

2. There will be no public input until plan is submitted to D&R Canal Commission for review/approval.

3. DEP said that they want to cut trees this winter, but said there would be no significant cutting until all D&R Canal approvals and DEP permits are issued.

Just before the meeting Delaware Riverkeeper sent me their strong letter to the Committee opposing DEP’s clearcut plan. Portions were  read during the meeting and it had an impact  (I can provide as email word doc upon request).

Emile Devito called me as I was driving to the meeting to ask that I advise the group that NJCF opposes the DEP plan, and will soon be issuing an alert to their members.

Opponents now include Sierra Club, NJ Audubon, Washington Crossing Audubon, NJCF, Riverkeeper, and NJ PEER.

Prior to the meeting, I contacted Curtis Leeds, news editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat (as did the Chair of the Committee, who was told the her heads up was provided on too short notice). I assumed that the Democrat was closely following the issue as a result of their April 17, 2012 page one story: DEP plans to clear-cut trees at Bull’s Island park, site of fatal campground accident

But, like DEP, curiously they were a no show (and they failed to write a story on the Alexandria Resolution, despite having a reporter at that meeting!). So, something is going on behind the scenes for sure.

So, here’s a brief newsy rundown of what went down: 

1. The Committee is part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers program. Important local Hunterdon County issues were discussed by local residents, local environmental groups, and local officials (Frenchtown Mayor, Alexandria Environmental Commission). There are meeting sign in sheets and agenda to document this. Official minutes will take some time – they only meet quarterly

2. On the NJ side of the river, the “Hot Dog Man” and Bull’s Island got the most discussion.

3. After my presentation, questions from Committee members and the audience, and lively discussion, the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Management Committee agreed to write a letter to DEP expressing their concerns and request a public planning process. I assume that they will do something very similar to the Alexandria Resolution 2012 – 157  ”To Oppose Plan To Clear Cut The Northen Portion of Bull’s Island State Park”.

4. The Delaware Greenway Partnership clarified their concerns and carefully distinguished their invasive species and Black Locust restoration work from DEP’s tree cutting plan, which they opposed. They also were misled by DEP false statements about the riverfront bulldozing and debris disposal. DEP told them that was a temporary dewatering operation.

I want to apologize for my prior criticism that they were misleading the public about what was  going on – it was not their fault, they were mislead by DEP.

5. Emile Devito of the NJ Conservation Foundation could not attend, but called me to ask that I advise the LDW&SC that NJCF opposing any cutting of trees and that they will be issuing an alert to their members shortly. As you know, NJCF is very active and well respected in Hunterdon County.

6. There were two remarkable  moments:

a) A resident of Lumberville, a former longtime local official and daily visitor to Bull’s Island, rehashed his story of discovering the riverfront bulldozing and fill and accused DEP of “a conspiracy” for intentionally misleading him and others. He said DEP intentionally misdirected inspectors away from the riverfront violations and to the wrong location on the Island where they discovered no problem. (I observed the same thing with DEP inspection reports and Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District inspections).

b) The Chair of the Alexandria Env. Commission spoke and stated that Cindy Randazzo, Director of DEP Local Government Assistance, called her twice to express her concerns about the Alexandria Resolution. During these calls, Randazzo stated, and this is a quote, that “sycamore’s are invasive species”. That elicited laughter from the audience.

7. It became apparent, from multiple people’s comments, that DEP is running away from the “clear cut” plan and claiming that there is “confusion”. But Larry Rangonese from the DEP press office announced the “clearcut plan” in a March 15, 2012 press release and confirmed that in the Democrat’s April 17, 2012 story:

DELAWARE TWP. — More than 200 trees, including sycamores that were saplings in the 1800s, are slated to be clear cut from the northwestern end of Bull’s Island state park.

The state Department of Environment Protection, which owns the recreation area on the banks of the Delaware River, plans the work by summer’s end.

Bill Wolfe of West Amwell Township, an activist and former DEP employee, said that the “harebrained scheme to wipe out supposedly killer trees should be halted in its tracks.” He said the plan will “denude more than five acres of parkland.”

DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese responded today: “We’re saddened to take the sycamores down but we’re acting on the basis of science and facts. We are going to restore this to what we believe to be very health and viable ecosystem” that is “beneficial to the wildlife. We have no reason to do otherwise.”

Also, a DEP memorandum of February 8, 2012 to Commissioner Martin goes beyond a “clear cut” and states:

  • “Based on the consultant’s report and a technical review by DEP forestry experts, we are proceeding with removing all vegetative material in the upper river section of Bull’s Island.
  • Once the area is cleared, the Department will proceed with replanting the area with appropriate floodplain vegetation that matures at smaller heights and does not pose a public safety risk.”

Commissioner Martin’s decision announced in this memo was made BEFORE any environmental review, federal consultation, or required D&R Canal Commission or DEP or permit process, and even BEFORE DEP had any plans for “developing a restoration landscape plan”.

I also have July 2011 emails from DEP Assistant Commissioner Amy Cradic that document the Commissioner’s decision – made PRIOR TO submission of the consultant’s Report – to cut and remove trees and directing her staff to start the timber bidding and permitting work to do that.

And you don’t have to take my word for it, these are all facts and all in the Department’s own words and documents.

So, lets see DEP walk back all that!

Easy way out: Issue a statement by the Commissioner declaring that the northern portion of the Island will not be clear-cut and instead made a Natural Area.

Tuns Martin from Goat to Hero.

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Clearcut of Forest in Mass. Should Doom Pending NJ Legislation

June 28th, 2012 No comments

“Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre”

Savoy State Forest, Mass. (source: http://clearcutma.blogspot.com/ )

[Important Update below]

Information being distributed on email listserves is stoking major new concerns by some NJ conservationists that Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests in Massachusetts have been clearcut.

There is pending “Forest Stewardship” legislation in NJ – the pending NJ bill would rely on the same FSC certification process that failed so badly in Massachusetts.

These developments should doom the NJForest Stewardship” pending legislation we have criticized several times here as likely to produce exactly these kinds of abuses.

In addition to the Massachusetts abuses, the pending NJ bill lacks important regulatory safeguards, as we’ve noted previously.

If there is any doubt about the nature and extent of the clearcutting abuses in Massachusetts State forests, check of the photos posted on the website “$ The Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre $”.

The abuses of the Massachusetts FSC certification program have been subject to oversight by another website called “FSC Watch“, who wrote:

The more than half million acres of Massachusetts Public Forests, including the Savoy Forest, were certified by Scientific Certification Systems Inc, in August 2004. SCS evidently had difficulty in massaging the state public bodies through the certification process: of the 17 ‘conditions’ which SCS had attached to the certificate between 2002, when assessment began, and 2004, only two conditions had been ‘closed out’ by the time the certificate was issued. SCS’s Public Summary Report of the certificate reveals that, at the time of certificaton, the various public bodies responsible for managing forestlands had no landscape level forest management plan, very few actual forest management plans, no means of identifying or delimiting areas of High Conservation Value Forest, had no credible calculations of annual allowable harvest, and had failed to identify, designate, or map representative ecological reserves.

[Update: 7/2/12 - I just received this note requesting clarification:

Thanks for your recent blog post about concern in NJ and lessons from MA.
However, you left out one very significant detail: MA lost it's FSC certification due to the actions you describe. As a voluntary effort, withdrawing certification is the most significant step FSC can take. See the attached articles as a reference ( for attachments, see this and this).
I'd appreciate it if you'd update your blog post to reflect this fact, which I think is quite material to the story.
Please let me know if I can provide additional info or if you have questions.
Thanks very much.
Best,
Brad Kahn
Communications Director
Forest Stewardship Council U.S.
+1-206-419-1607

Savoy State Forest, Mass (source: http://tinyurl.com/canjvuy )

 

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Toxic Cleanup Grant To Convict Fiasco Opens A Can of Worms

June 27th, 2012 1 comment

[Update: 7/2/12 - Pillets does third story - for reporters out there, this is how you research and report a story. Fact check the spin out of DEP press Office and call them out for failure to answer the questions and provide complete information:, see Truck stop oil cleanup already has cost taxpayers $1.5M - end]

Jeff Pillets of the Bergen Record did another excellent followup piece on the Mahwah gas station leak/pollution case which threatens the Mahwah water supply wells (see:  N.J. holds up grant to ex-convict for cleanup of Mahwah truck stop

While today’s story is about the State’s holdup of payment of the $335,000 grant pending review by the Attorney General’s Office, the dispute about the contamination has opened the door to investigative reporting and public oversight of critically important DEP programs that have flown totally under the radar.

Specifically, quotes from EDA and DEP mask huge issues, so let’s highlight and take a brief look  (I have a meeting this morning and can’t write, but will be writing in depth about these issues soon. Our next installments of the Clean Water Series will focus on 3 of these issues.)

I)  ”Monitoring and Filtration System”

DEP claims to be on top of the situation:

State environmental officials, meanwhile, said Tuesday the decades-old fuel leak is not in danger of polluting nearby well fields. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said the state has been in control of a monitoring and filtration system at the site since 2003.

When Rangonese refers to “the site”, is he talking about the gas station or the well fields?

Would that be groundwater monitoring and a pump and treat system? That must be clarified.

II)  ”Tier I Well Head Protection”

There seems to be some dispute between DEP and EDA about whether or not there is a threat to the Mahwah water supply well fields.

EDA justified the grant with this quote, which opens up an examination of the DEP’s implementation of the “Source Water Protection” program mandated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act:

Ragonese said a June 12 report written by the Economic Development Authority, the agency that awarded the grant, was “mistaken” in characterizing the leaks as an “imminent threat to Mahwah’s well fields.”

“I can’t speak for the EDA,” said Ragonese. “I do not know where they got that information.”  …

“EDA was informed the project site is located in a ‘Tier I wellhead protection area’ and that these areas are viewed as priority cleanup sites.”

So:

  • What is a Wellhead protection area?
  • What is Source Water Protection?
  • Why are they significant regulatory programs?
  • Do I have them in my town?
  • How is DEP doing in implementing Source Water and Wellhead protection?

People out there need to start asking DEP tough questions – start filing OPRA requests!

III)  ”Off Site Migration”

There is a similarly significant dispute about whether the leaks and pollution have migrated off-site.

DEP claims that there is no off-site migration:

Ragonese said DEP officials conferred with Mahwah leaders Tuesday to inform them of the state’s efforts to control the leaking fuel tanks.

“We reassured Mahwah that this leak is under control and not spreading off-site,” Ragonese said.

But very few people know that DEP allows pollutants to migrate off-site and issues what are known as “Classification Exception Areas” (CEA’s) at those sites which map exactly where those groundwater plumes are.

What the hell is a CEA?

IV)  How Does DEP Set Cleanup Priorities and Monitor Private Consultants?

EDA says they are following priorities in awarding grants (e.g. Tier I Wellhead Protection Area).

DEP has led the Mayor of Mahwah to believe that the site is now a DEP priority – because they  ”made so much noise about the debacle”.

The Mayor also opens up a huge can of worms on fundamental conflicts of interest in NJ’s flawed privatized cleanup program :

Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said the DEP promised him that the site would now become a priority for the agency.

The mayor said he expressed his view that state officials should be at the site to personally monitor the leaks, instead of private consultants hired and paid by Minuto.

“I think we have seen that we cannot trust the operator of this site to keep their word,” Laforet said.

“Hopefully, I have made so much noise about this debacle that the state will have to finally clean it up.

Exploring these issues should be fun – but certainly no fun for anyone living in the DEP mapped “Toxic Threat Zones” or on top of a CEA.

More to follow.

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Romney Fundraiser in Woodbridge Draws Dem. Counter

June 26th, 2012 No comments

Dems Focus on Education – Planned Parenthood: “Women Are Watching”

Assemblyman and NJ Democratic Party Chair John Wiznewski speaks at press conference before Romney fundraiser in Woodbridge

The leader of NJ Dems and education and women’s reproductive healthcare advocates were out in the parking lot with signs – it made a good contrast with the Republican fat cats lining up  in the lobby of the (no pun) “Renaissance Woodbridge” to write checks to the Romney campaign.

Thank goodness the Women Are Watching.

But I was surprised that there was not a much larger and organized protest against Romney. Where was labor? Environmental groups? All those clever Romney campaign bird-dogggers?

I was looking forward to seeing the Romeny shitwagon with the dog on top.

Anyway,  Wiznewski repeatedly used the 1% metaphor to criticize Romney-Christie priorities (thanks Occupy Wall Street! The Dems have not coopted the Movement. Van Jones is right on this one, OWS has forced the Dems to engage!)

Substantively, Wiznewski chose to focus his remarks on the Romney-Christie education agenda. He particularly emphasized Governor Christie’s disrespect for and constant YouTube cheap shot attacks on teachers and public schools (I loved it when he mentioned that Christie sends his own kids to private schools!).

He used the infamous Romney quote about cutting teachers, policemen and firefighters to link Christie and Romney as hostile to public schools, teachers, and investments in education.

After listening to what I thought was a bullshit “he said/she said” false equivalence question from a political reporter covering the event (i.e. “the Dems have supported Gov. Christie’s agenda – how can they have any credibility with teachers”), I felt the need to ask a question at Wiznewski’s press conference (he told me later he really liked it!). I asked him how he contained his frustration with such dumb questions by the press that ignore sharply contrasting ideological and policy agenda’s between Democrats and Governor Christie.

Although the Romney people denied my request to enter and shoot the event (a stunning blond woman was very nice to me – but how does she do real media work in those heels?), I  had a pretty good Paparazzi thing going on in the hotel lobby (security thought I was real press), but NJ Senator Joe Kyrillos had me booted –  see shot below. I can understand why Kyrillos, running for US Senate, would want to avoid any affiliation with Romney.

The only R’s I knew and saw were Bill Gormley and Roger Bodman – but the few shots below capture the essence of the event – and it sure looks like Romney-Christie have an old rich white people problem.

Does Romney support birth control and view reproductive rights as health care? Good thing the Women are Watching!

NJ Senator Joe Kyrillos fingers yours truly

classic fat cat

more fatcats - who are these men?

Republican ladies are outright hostile!

 

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