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Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Legislation Shines Light on Christie DEP’s Failures

 Despite Campaign Pledge & Scientists Recommendations, Christie DEP Has Not Designated 1 Stream Mile

How is it possible that scientific recommendations for C1 designations have been ignored?

Source: NJDEP (2012)

Recommended C1designation upgrades – Source: NJDEP (2012)

In a strong contrast to the situation in NJ under the Christie Administration, in a press release issued today, Pennsylvania clean water activists are applauding proposed legislation that would establish 100 foot wide forested buffers along some Pennsylvania streams:

Conservation and Water Research Orgs Applaud Streamside Forest Buffers Bill

Bristol, Pa.— Relying upon, current science that shows streamside forest buffers protect communities from pollution and reduce flooding , Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty (R-44) introduced a new bill to support protection of forest buffers along streams, creeks and rivers in the state. The new bill is being applauded by both conservation and water research organizations.

“This measure will provide the most basic protections from pollution and flooding to every community in the Commonwealth,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “Streams lined by healthy forested buffers reduce pollution in the creeks communities drink from, fish in, and play in. Once established, vegetated buffers help communities meet federal pollution protection laws at a very low cost, they can provide protection from flooding that devastates communities, and they help prevent erosion that undermines public and private lands as well as bridge and road infrastructure. Moreover, this law will ensure that the cost of providing these protections is appropriately carried by new development projects, not by taxpayers or municipal and state budgets.”

Senate Bill 1465 focuses on securing 100-foot buffers on waterways that are bordered by new development projects with additional protections for waterways that fail to meet state water quality requirements as well as streams designated exceptional value or high quality. The law encourages municipal ordinances to provide this protection and supports statewide action in the absence of municipal ordinances.

“We recently reviewed over 230 scientific studies and concluded that streamside forest buffers must be at least 100 feet wide on both side of the stream to adequately protect its physical, chemical, and biological integrity. So, I am delighted to hear about this proposed legislation. It is consistent with the latest science,” said Bernard W. Sweeney, Ph.D. Director Stroud Water Research Center, based in Avondale, Pa.

While Pennsylvania legislators, led by a Republican, seek to move forward with clean water regulatory protections, the situation in NJ is exactly the opposite.

The contrast on the stream buffer issue could not be more stark.

While Pennsylvania’s clean water advocates fight for 100 foot wide buffer legislation, very few people realize that NJ, a far more densely developed state than Pennsylvania,  has regulatory 300 foot wide buffers along over 2,000 stream miles.

The NJ stream buffer program – known as “Special Water Resource Protection Areas” or “Category 1 waters” –  is a regulatory program that was advanced during the McGreevey Administration by DEP – I was an architect of that effort under the leadership of DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell.

The C1 waters are designated by DEP based on “exceptional” resource values.

In contrast to the aggressive C1 regulatory designations and suite of clean water protections by the McGreevey Administration,  the Christie Administration has headed in the opposite direction, by weakening standards and not designating a single stream mile for special C1 buffer protections.

The Christie DEP has not designated 1 single mile of C1 waters with protected buffers, despite promising to do so to secure the endorsement of NJEF during the 2009 campaign and the more recent recommendations of DEP scientists to designate 121  stream miles – see this DEP Report, which has gotten no support by NJ environmental groups and no press coverage:

 

… a total 121 river miles have been identified as recommended candidate waters to receive C1 protections based on the Exceptional Ecological Significance or the Exceptional Fisheries Resources categories. This includes 36 river miles that were among the 227 river miles where C1 protections were not adopted in 2008 based on endangered and threatened species. Candidate waters will need to go through the formal rulemaking process to receive C1 designation.

When will DEP actually propose the new C1 protection along those 121 river miles?

Those “candidate C1 waters” recommended by DEP scientists include some of the highest quality waters, exceptional trout streams, and environmentally sensitive areas of the state, including the Highlands and the Sourland Mountains: (see the DEP Report for detailed maps):

  • Clove Brook & West Branch Papakating Creek (Sussex Co.)
  • Rock Brook (Somerset/Hunterdon/Mercer Co.)
  • Stone House Brook (Morris Co.)
  • North Branch Raritan River tributary (Morris Co.)
  • Ramapo River Tributary (Passaic Co.)
  • Swartswood Creek (Passaic Co.)
  • Paulins Kill River (Warren Co.)
  • Mine Brook (Morris Co.)
  • Beaver Brook & Pequest River (Warrne Co.)
  • Pophandusing Brook (Warren Co.)

How is it possible that these recommended C1 designations have been ignored?

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