All around us, we can see the effects of scarce rainfall during the past year: river and reservoir levels well below normal, parched soil, and autumn leaves looking crispy and less colorful than usual. What we can’t see is just as worrisome: less “recharge” of underground aquifers that supply most of the drinking water to residents of the 470-square-mile Raritan Headwaters region in Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris counties. The National Weather Service has estimated that precipitation during the past 12 months is between 7.4 and 10.7 percent lower than average in these three counties.
“We’re well below our average annual rainfall this year,” said Bill Kibler, Director of Policy for Raritan Headwaters, “and last year was a dry year as well. Our streams have been incredibly low most of 2016.” On Thursday, Oct. 20, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) declared a water supply drought warning for northern, central (which includes Readington Township) and northern coastal New Jersey. The warning, which gives the DEP greater authority to order transfers between water systems, is more serious than the drought watch put in place in July but not as severe as a water emergency. “Spruce Run Reservoir is holding just 35.5% of the water it can hold,” Kibler said. “Drive by the reservoir and have a look if you want a real eye-opener.” The New Jersey Water Supply Authority website shows Round Valley Reservoir is at only 69.4% capacity. Page 2 “The largest reservoir in our state is nearing the lowest level it’s ever been,” said Kibler. “That gives you a good perspective on how dry we are in the Raritan Headwaters region.” Water use restrictions are still voluntary, but Raritan Headwaters – the watershed watchdog for the North Branch and South Branch of the Raritan River – urges local residents to take the situation seriously and use water wisely.
Here are some easily implemented water-saving tips: • Stop watering your lawn! Grass is about to go dormant for the winter, so there’s no need to keep watering it this time of year. • Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they’re full. • Turn the faucet off when brushing your teeth or shaving. • Fix leaky faucets, pipes and toilets, and install low-flow showerheads. • Take your car to a car wash instead of hosing it down at home. Most car washes recycle their water, using less than folks who wash their own cars. • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap to get the water cold. • Opt for showers instead of baths, and keep your showers as short as possible to save thousands of gallons per month. • Use a broom to sweep leaves off the sidewalk, rather than a hose. • Collect the water you use while rinsing fruits and vegetables, and use it for watering houseplants. By the time you read this our area may have received some much-needed rainfall … but don’t be lulled into a false sense of complacency. The drought didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t end overnight. We will need months of above-average precipitation to recharge our groundwater and bring our river and reservoir levels back to normal. Thank you for doing your part to help conserve our water resources! ______________________________________________________________________________ READINGTON TOWNSHIP ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION – November 2016 Be mindful that the well-water serving your property comes from an aquifer that also serves hundreds of other wells and families around you. Respecting and conserving water is a common responsibility we share as a community. Together we can make a real difference.
Suez in Rockland County, New York is proposing to buy five million gallons of water a day from the Wanaque Reservoir, the largest reservoir in North Jersey. North Jersey District Water Supply Commission is considering selling 6 million gallons a day that they consider “extra”. New Jersey is currently experiencing a drought through most of the state. Many of our reservoirs have hit record low levels.
“Selling New Jersey’s water during a drought in unconscionable. Our water supply and reservoir levels are continuing to drop and instead of doing anything to fix it, the state wants to send what water we have left to New York. We are seeing our reservoirs sink to historically low levels and our rivers becoming low and dirty. Still, the DEP has refused to take any real action. Instead, they continue rolling back protections for clean water. With all of this considered, the idea of selling off gallons of clean water to NYS for development is ridiculous,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There’s nothing to consider about this deal: they should say no. We’re in a drought warning now and may have a drought emergency soon. We should not be selling our most precious resource: our water.”
In October, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued drought warnings in 14 northern and central counties and a drought watch in four others. New Jersey’s drought is not only a result of low rainfall, but more about increase of pollution, poor water quality, and the DEP’s failure to clean-up our waterways. We should be working to conserve and protect our water supply, not get rid of it by selling it to other states.
“Our state has a long history of opposing Suez and New York siphoning water from our state. The DEP stopped Suez from taking water from Cranbury Lake and Potake Pond on the NJ border. Our state has spent over ten million dollars of Green Acres money, and helped raise over $100 million more, to help preserve Sterling Forest and the Wanaque Reservoir watershed. For decades, we have opposed allowing NY to take our water. It is more important than ever to continue to do so now because of the drought conditions plaguing our state,” said Jeff Tittel. “The Sierra Club has long fought to protect the Wanaque Reservoir and we will continue to do so.”
We are concerned that by taking more water out of the Reservoir they will need to pump more water back into the Reservoir system from the Pompton and lower Passaic Rivers. Pollution from downstream would be pumped back into our reservoirs, potentially increasing the concentration of pollutants in the Passaic and the Reservoir. New York already sometimes takes more water out of the Ramapo then they’re allowed.
“We’re asking the DEP to not let this transaction happen. The water they take from New Jersey will be used in New York for more development. This will mean more pollution including stormwater runoff and sewage coming into our rivers and reservoirs such as the Hackensack and Ramapo Rivers and Wanaque and Oradell reservoirs. 5 million gallons a day is the same amount of sewage that would come into the reservoir had we not bought Sterling Forest to protect it. If they divert this water, we will have to pump dirty water to make up for it,” said Jeff Tittel. “Suez in New York has failed to protect their own water supply by allowing too much development. Now they want our water to make up for it.”
The NJDWSC was an important ally in preservation of the Highlands. NJDWC conducted the study in 2004 that helped lead to the Highlands Act. They were able to show that development of the region would cost New Jersey ratepayers more than $50 billion to treat the water. Even as far back as the 1960’s the NJDWSC stopped Ford Motor Company from building a major city on the bank of the Wanaque River and a major highway that would cut through the reservoir to serve that city.
“The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission used to be an independent agency that looked after the water and environment. The Christie Administration removed both the previous board members and replaced them with his cronies. Now that it’s been stacked with political cronies, we’re concerned that they will go against their history and consider selling off our water, despite the drought conditions,” said Jeff Tittel. “We’re giving away our future. As New Jersey’s cities are growing, selling our water to New York will hurt that growth.”
The New Jersey Water Supply Master Plan has not been updated since 1995, making it impossible to determine all the consequences this proposal will have on the water supply. The plan does not include developments built since the last update, but that still rely on the reservoir for drinking water. Taking more water from the system could not only impact the Reservoir but also interconnected water bodies like the Ramapo, Passaic, and Pompton Rivers by creating drought/ low flow conditions and deteriorating water quality.
“Since the Christie Administration took over, New Jersey’s water has been threatened from all sides. Christie continues to roll back water protections and refuses to manage clean water properly. Our state’s Water Supply Master Plan is 20 years out of date. They are allowing development in important buffers and flood-prone areas. Our water quality and quantity is continuing to drop and we shouldn’t make any deals that will make the situation worse,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Suez should get the Chutzpah Award for trying to take our water during a drought. We will oppose any kind of water allocation permit changes to prevent this deal.”