LETTER Drought Gets Worse, NJ Should Declare an EMERGENCY


While New Jersey’s drought worsens throughout the state, while our reservoirs are continuing to drop. 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. 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. The DEP should have put out the drought warning in June, but instead we may be seeing a water crisis.


“While New Jersey’s drought is more severe and spreading into new areas, our state’s reservoirs levels are dropping. The DEP’s policy to address the drought has been to do nothing and pray for rain. The problem is the drought has went from bad to worse because now the drought is declared as severe. We are seeing 12 of our reservoirs sink to historically low levels, with Round Valley, falling to its lowest level ever. At the same time our rivers becoming low and dirty because of the DEP’s failure to clean up our waterways. Instead, they continue rolling back protections for clean water making this drought more severe” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “All along DEP have failed to act, but now it is time for them to declare an emergency. DEP should have put water conservation and other measures in place earlier. The reason is because we may be headed into a winter drought, which will be an even bigger emergency for clean water.”


New Jersey’s reservoirs have been operating below average levels, while stream flows and ground water levels are also low, particularly in the northeast quadrant of the state. This drought poses a risk because streams are running between 75 to 90 percent below normal flow. The DEP has clearly failed to protect our water supply rivers. While the Passaic River is running over 90 percent water discharge from over 70 sewer plants, the Raritan River has over 80 percent sewer discharge from 60 sewer plants.


“New Jersey is actually playing Russian Roulette with our water supply. DEP has been praying for rain, but this drought is more the result of a drought of action. We are in a drought because of DEP’s failure to clean-up our rivers. When there is a drought, streams and rivers are too low and too dirty to use like the Passaic and Raritan River who are running between 75 to 90 percent normal flow. This has made makes droughts worse because we don’t have enough back-up supply in our reservoirs,” said Jeff Tittel.  “Our low reservoir levels have led to an increased threat of salt water intrusion, further threatening our water supply. For example, salty water from the Delaware Bay entering the Delaware River and getting dangerously close to water intake points in Delran.”


DEP has proposed a serious of rule proposals, including the new Highlands septic rule that threaten the most environmentally sensitive Forest Preservation Area that helps protect our drinking water, pristine trout streams, and reservoirs. They have also made amendments to increase development and sewer hook-ups, while limiting the amount of sewerage treatment plants who comply with pollution limits. 


“Instead of protecting clean water, DEP is threatening it with a series of roll backs. The Christie Administration’s Flood Hazard rules will add more development in environmentally sensitive areas, getting rid of stream buffers, and eliminating protections for headwaters. The problem with eliminating the buffers means that streams are no longer able to absorb water for recharge. Not only will the DEP’s rollbacks increase runoff and pollution, but there will be less recharge of our aquifers. The DEP has even giving out water allocation permits without environmental analysis,” said Tittel.

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. 


“The DEP’s failure to update our Water Supply Master Plan for the past 20 years is outrageous. This means we do not know how much water we have because of the change in development patterns and water availability. Even worse is that the Plan hasn’t been updated for climate impacts, which means there is more irrigation, consumption, and a longer growing season for farmers. All of this causing more water usage,” said Jeff Tittel.  “DEP needs to change its methodology for issuing a drought because they don’t look at soil moisture, stream conditions, or stream flows like other states. The problem is more than half of New Jersey’s water supply is from rivers and groundwater, not reservoirs so we could have easily put a warning in place months ago.”

Not only do we have to worry about lack of rainfall and salt intrusion into our reservoirs, but we don’t have proper infrastructure to begin with. Our old, leaky pipes allow water to seep out and pollution to seep in. Many cities and towns across the state are seeing this become a problem with lead in the drinking water. The little water that we have is leaking out of the pipes before it can get to our homes.


“Now that New Jersey is in a severe drought, this shows we need to declare a drought emergency. The DEP must take immediate steps to conserve and protect water supplies. By not cleaning up and failing to address pollution in our waterways, the DEP has actually made the drought worse. Instead of protecting clean water, Christie continues to roll back water protections and refuses to manage it properly,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.“Unless DEP acts now, we could see water rationing, severe water restrictions, businesses close, or we could actually run out of water.”