With Drought Warning Imminent, Water Groups Urge NJ Environmental Officials to Address Long-Term Drinking Water Needs


SaveH20NJ.org, an alliance of environmental groups committed to preserving and protecting the state’s drinking water supply, expressed growing concern over the diminished levels of New Jersey’s reservoirs on the eve of a drought hearing by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

On the heels of extremely dry spring and summer seasons and with drinking water reservoirs plummeting to approximately 50 percent capacity in North Jersey, the DEP has scheduled a public hearing on Thursday morning, a necessary step before it can issue a drought warning.

A drought warning for the following 12 counties — in which millions of New Jerseyans rely on the public water supply — could be issued as early as Thursday: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, and Union. Those counties have been under a DEP-issued drought watch since July. In addition, the DEP has expanded the drought watch to include Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem counties. All but three counties — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland — are under a formal drought designation.

A drought watch seeks voluntary water conservation; the more serious drought warning enables the DEP to require water purveyors to take action to conserve and secure drinking water sources.

“The condition of the four largest reservoirs in the state — Round Valley, Wanaque, Spruce Run and Monksville — is absolutely dire. This action to designate a formal drought warning is extremely late, maybe too late. I hope declaring a drought emergency does not happen, but if it does, DEP need look no further for someone to blame than in the mirror,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

The last drought warning occurred in 2001. However, this is the second consecutive year that the DEP has issued a drought watch. In addition to drinking water reservoir levels reaching dangerously low levels, the DEP has listed all stream flows and ground water levels for the entire state as moderately, severely or extremely dry for at least the past 90 days. The DEP publishes updates to drought indicators for the state at njdrought.org.

“New Jersey’s dwindling water supply is a growing concern to the millions of families and businesses who rely on an abundant supply of clean and affordable drinking water,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Data and observation over more than a year have pointed to a water system in peril. While we applaud the DEP’s recognition of the worsening drought, we implore the agency to end its decades-long delay in adopting a long-term plan to preserve and sustain a clean drinking water supply.”

The NJ Legislature had the foresight and understanding to require proactive planning and ensure that NJ has enough clean water available to meet all of our needs. In 1981, the Legislature passed the Water Supply Management Act, and it requires that the DEP update the Water Supply Plan at least every five years. However, the last plan update happened in 1996 — 20 years ago.

“New Jersey’s Water Supply Plan is 20 years old and it fails to adequately plan for drinking water supply for NJ’s growing population. We need the DEP and Governor Christie to update and release the Water Supply Plan to ensure we have enough water to drink, grow Jersey Fresh Produce, support healthy habitats, recreation, tourism, and water dependent businesses in our state including Budweiser, Goya, and M&M’s,” Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. “Clean water is essential to life, economy, and a healthy environment in the Garden State. Without the Water Supply Plan, the state government is gambling with our future.”

“The drought in North Jersey is a sign of things to come. Due to improper planning by the DEP, our residential and ecological communities will suffer far greater than if New Jersey released a water supply master plan years ago and implemented provisions to help deal with low supply and high demand. Residents should voice their concerns at the hearing and demand immediate action with a strong plan that protects our most precious resource.” Jaclyn Rhoads, Deputy Director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Tools and tips for water conservation in homes and communities including landscaping, leak detection, and best water practices can be found at: http://www.saveh2onj.org/

“We need to act now to protect our state’s water. Clean and plentiful water is essential for our economy and ecology. Threats to our waters threaten our wildlife, communities and economy,” Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society

The public hearing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, in the Millburn Free Public Library auditorium, 200 Glen Avenue in Millburn.

Reprinted with permission from the Association of NJ Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) and SaveH20NJ.org.