LETTER DEP Must Continue to Oppose Selling NJ’s Water, Drought or Not

The DEP has come out against a proposal for Suez in Rockland County, New York 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”. This is a terrible proposal that must be stopped to protect our clean drinking water. Currently 12 of our state’s reservoirs are operating at about 52 percent of their full capacity of 70.6 billion gallons of water. Severe drought conditions have been declared when they jumped from 39.1 percent of the state to 40 percent of the state. Western sections of Hunterdon and Warren counties are now included in that area.  Even if New Jersey isn’t experiencing a drought, we should still not consider this proposal because it will rob taxpayers who paid for our reservoirs, increase pollution, and could cause an even bigger drought in the future.


“It is good that DEP has come out against the plan to sell New Jersey’s water during a drought, but they should never consider it at all. This proposal is a bad policy even if we are in a drought or not. DEP should never sell our water to New York because the people of New Jersey has paid for these reservoirs. If they do this, New York will use it for development and as a result we will experience the pollution and stormwater runoff,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Even though they are against this sale now, they need to oppose it in the future. New Jersey could come out of the drought, but if DEP sells our water to New York, we could be in another emergency. While reservoir levels are continuing to drop, streams are running low. We are seeing our reservoirs sink to historically low levels and our rivers becoming low and dirty. What DEP really needs to do now is declare a drought emergency to adequately protect our drinking water supply.”


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. 


“We are glad to see DEP stand up against this plan, but they need to continue to oppose selling New Jersey’s water even when we are not in a drought. 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.


“This proposal is unconscionable because 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.“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.”


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.      

“Regardless of if we are in a drought, DEP needs to continue to oppose this plan to protect clean water. Our water quality and quantity is continuing to drop and we shouldn’t make any deals that will make the situation worse, now and in the future. 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,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “While we have been in a drought, DEP’s response has been to do nothing and pray for rain. Now it is time for them to declare an EMERGENCY.”