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Christie DEP Using USGS To Weaken Highlands Water Protections

USGS Study On Nitrate Levels In Highlands Groundwater Highly Suspect

With huge unfunded needs, why would USGS and DEP focus on nitrate levels in the Highlands?

As the nation’s most densely populated and developed state, the home of petrochemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing and a legacy of toxic industrial pollution, with thousands of miles of streams, hundreds of lakes, ecologically rich bays, and a 128 mile shoreline, NJ has serious water resource challenges.

Response to those challenges requires good data and science.

But there are a host of unmet scientific research and data collection needs to address these kind of high priority critical problems:

  • State DEP officials don’t know how much water NJ has available for water supply; how much will be needed to meet future demands; how climate change will impact supply and demand; and how much water can safely used without harming aquatic life.
  • DEP has not updated – as legally mandated every 5 years – the NJ Water Supply Plan for decades. The data in the plan is 30 years old.
  • NJ DEP promised to develop watershed specific water budgets 20 years ago.
  • NJ DEP promised to adopt what are known as “eco-flow goals” to restrict human uses of water to protect aquatic ecosystems 20 years ago.
  • USGS has found over 500 unregulated chemicals in our drinking water supply sources. There is little human health or ecological effects information on these chemicals. Treatment systems to reduce the discharge and remove them are not required or fully understood.
  • Over 75% of NJ waterways are impaired and do not meet Clean Water Act fishable and swimmable goals.
  • The Barnegat Bay is on the verge of ecological collapse.
  • USGS, DEP and the Pinelands Commission began research on the ecological impacts of water withdrawals in the Pinelands 15 years ago – regulatory protections still are not in place.
  • NJ DEP lacks current flood maps – many are 30 years old.
  • The projected water resource impacts of climate change are poorly understood.
  • Surface and groundwater hydrology  monitoring networks are not adequate and lack stable funding.
  • Ambient biological monitoring of lakes and streams is inadequate.
  • Marine monitoring, fisheries, and ecosystem science is limited and poorly understood.

The lack of current data and good science is limiting action on all of those issues.

So, with all these and other competing needs that lack funding, why would USGS and DEP focus on nitrate levels in the Highlands? See:

Median Nitrate Concentrations in Groundwater in the New Jersey Highlands Region Estimated Using Regression Models and Land-Surface Characteristics

Let me explain why very briefly:

The DEP Highlands regulations have  strict septic density standards that are based on background nitrate levels in groundwater: one is 88 acre lot sizes in forested areas.

These regulations severely restrict development potential.

Property owners and developers strongly oppose these science based and legally valid restrictions.

The builders failed to kill these standards in legal challenges in the courts and political challenges in the Legislature.

So, they have convinced Gov. Christie’s DEP Commissioner to gut the protections via DEP regulations.

But DEP needs a scientific basis to gut the regulations.

That’s why USGS is studying the problem – they are being used.

USGS can’t be that naive and stupid, can they?

DEP Commissioner Martin tried the same stunt in tasking his hand picked pet Science Advisory Board to review DEP’s Nitrate Dilution Model.

He’s now doing the same thing with USGS, and just in time for gutting the DEP Highlands Act rules, which expire on December 31, 2015 (just in time for the Highlands Council to Update the Regional Master Plan)

Can he get away with this scheme?

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