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Is NJ Quietly Slipping Into an Early Drought?

Do Below Normal Stream Flows and Unusual Weather Pattern Portend Drought?

Just Like Sandy, State Unprepared- Water Supply Plan Decades Old

Where is the DEP Water Supply Master Plan Update?

Hit links below for data (Source USGS - h/t Todd Bates

Todd Bates of the Asbury Park Press, posted some interesting data and maps on his “EnviroGuy” blog:

New Jersey’s dry spell has led to below-normal stream flows in most of the state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In part of North Jersey, stream flows are equivalent to what happens during a moderate drought, according to a USGS map.

And it looks like it will remain dry through Monday, at least in Neptune, according to the National Weather Service.

Check out these maps:

[Note: the DEP drought monitoring indices rate stream flow and groundwater as “extremely dry” – but curiously, the declared drought status is “normal”]

The stream flow data reflects an unusual weather pattern, written about by Stephen Stirling the “Weather Guy” at NJ.com – This is the same “blocking pattern” that brought Superstorm Sandy, another example of extreme weather:

see:  Same type of weather pattern that brought N.J. Sandy will produce beautiful conditions across state this week

A blocking weather pattern has set itself up over the continental United States and New Jersey is in the sweet spot. A blocking weather pattern centers around a ridge of high pressure that locks itself in place, slowing and redirecting the typical train of storm systems across the country.

Some scientists  – including at NOAA – suggest that the unusual “blocking pattern” is linked to climate change and related to melting of arctic sea ice and is another driver of “extreme weather”.

If that “blocking pattern” lasts for awhile, NJ could be slipping into an early drought cycle – a spring drought would create deficits going into a potentially dangerous dry summer, more of NJ’s cycle of “lurching from drought to flood”.

If an extended dry period were to occur, NJ is unprepared for drought.

The legally mandated update of the Water Supply Master Plan is many years over-due and nowhere in sight. DEP has been promising to update the plan for years, with no action and no accountability for lack of action.

Curiously, the public members of NJ’s Water Supply Advisory Council are totally silent in calling for DEP to act, a disturbing sign of abdication of their public responsibility .

As we wrote, these are highly significant issues for NJ:

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.

So, if the dry pattern continues, will that wake DEP and the WSAC members up?

To issue that wake up call, we will repost some of the huge issues involved (don’t bother hitting the links to the outdated 1996 Water Supply Plan, DEP took down those documents to cover their tracks!)

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 ingroundwater 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 allocation 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 reasource 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. scott olson
  2. May 3rd, 2013 at 10:52 | #2

    @scott olson

    Thanks Scott.

    Were these documents and limns posted on the DEP website?

    The links I previously posted that were taken down used to be on the DEP website.

    I can no longer find them.

    This is the new webpage DEP set up when the shut down the prior links – which they did AFTER my post:


  3. scott olson
    May 3rd, 2013 at 10:59 | #3

    No! I just Googled the names of the documents – I couldn’t find any links besides the direct Google find. They are there at DEP, just not linked as far as I can tell. And if you go to DEP and search their site by the document name:


    No results were found for your search.
    Try changing some of the words in your query.


  1. May 29th, 2015 at 23:35 | #1
  2. June 7th, 2015 at 09:28 | #2
  3. June 26th, 2015 at 21:54 | #3
  4. June 28th, 2015 at 03:06 | #4
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