LETTER – New Water Supply Master Plan Puts Our Drinking Water at Risk


After two decades of inaction, the DEP has come out with an extremely flawed Water Supply Master Plan. The revisions to the NJSWSP are intended to improve the management and protection of the State’s water supplies. This five (5)-year Plan constitutes the second complete revision of the NJSWSP. The Water Supply Master Plan (WSMP) is one of the most important strategic documents produced by the DEP.  It is based on the most available science and data and is the guiding document for water supply for both quality and quantity.   The plan should be called the State of our Waters because it is an assessment of our current water supply and our future water needs in New Jersey.  The Master Plan looks at both the threats and the options to ensure New Jersey has abundant clean water for future generations. However, the plan has three serious flaws because it fails to include issues with groundwater contamination, sea level rise and climate change. Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club Director released the following statement:

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“We waited 20 years the Water Supply Master Plan update and we should have waited until the next administration because it is that bad. This plan is flawed with missing and outdated data, while playing games with the facts. It doesn’t address our most pressing problems and fails to adequately address the real issues with water quality and quantity. This plan is more spin than substance because it doesn’t address groundwater contamination, toxic sites as well as climate impacts that increase sea level rise, cause more salt water intrusion, and change weather patterns. The problem is the Christie Administration’s finally released the plan and it is really an attack on planning and clean water. This is part of the Administration’s roll back of environmental protections and puts our water supply at risk. They say we have water on paper, but it isn’t coming out of our faucet.”

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“This plan over estimates the amount of water available and uses the wrong criteria to hide water deficits. They are doing this by measuring watersheds by HUC 11s instead of HUC 14s, which is not the proper methodology. Instead of looking at the entire watershed from top to bottom, including the water supply intakes above the Wanaque Reservoir, water supply above the Pompton intake, and Little Falls on the Passaic River, they are looking at areas like where the Passaic River hits the Newark Bay where the sewer plant is. The problem is no one drinks that water because that area is polluted and has a lot of non-point source pollution and sewer discharge. This is being done so they don’t show the real deficit with our water supply intakes. For example, 90 percent of HUC 14s in Highlands are in deficit, but this plan doesn’t want to show that where we get our water there is not enough.”


“Even with all the games and masking DEP is doing, this plan still shows New Jersey will soon exceed available water supply. By grouping the 151 HUC 11s watersheds in 20 Watershed Planning Areas, this allows masking of sub-watersheds where there is not enough water and water contamination. There is no proper characterization of each watershed area, which could identify existing and future problems as well as ways to address them. Instead of allowing new water allocations and curtailing existing development, you can keep pumping if the water supply doesn’t exist. If there is not enough water for development, they aren’t looking at whether pumping will cause significant water depletion and serious problems. The plan doesn’t identify which are soon to become depleted areas or look at alternatives to help protect watersheds from going into water supply deficits. With peak demand and low flow conditions on streams, many areas in New Jersey could run out of water include Northeast New Jersey, Bergen and Passaic Counties, Union and Middlesex Counties, as well as South Jersey.”


“The Christie Administration’s Water Supply Master Plan doesn’t look at real science because it doesn’t consider climate impacts impact on our water supply. There is nothing in the update about change of weather patterns, longer growing seasons that cause plants and people to use more water, as well as change in rain in parts of the state while some will get less and some will get more. The plan also looks the other way at the accelerated rate of sea level rise and salt water intrusion. 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. Instead of protecting clean water, the Christie Administration has continued to roll back protections, which has made this drought even worse because we have less water availability.”


“The planning horizon is only until 2025 so if adopted only 6 years, which doesn’t work because Water Allocation Permits are good for 10 years. We need to use a 20 or 30 year planning horizon to understand water quality and the need in each region. The update mentions the Kirkwood– Cohansey aquifer study that was first recommended by Sierra Club and then we helped passed the bill in 2000 to get it done. While they are still talking about getting it done, they were supposed to have it completed by 2005. Meanwhile they have been over pumping our water supply, which has hurt the coastal plain and the Pinelands.”

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“The DEP’s plan have not adequately addressed how much water we have in rivers and streams we have available. The reason is because they have not redone the Q710, which is the standard for water withdraw. Based on a 7-day low flow period of a ten year drought, water allocations are not able to exceed that number. However, they haven’t calculated the Q710 in 30 years, which means they may be taking out water that could cause serious reductions in stream flow. For example, the Ramapo River is in a 10-year drought every other year, but we are taking out water too far to exceed capacity to sustain water supply.”


“DEP is looking the other way at issues with impervious cover. As a result of impervious cover, we have seriously low groundwater levels where we have a lot of runoff. We have groundwater levels dropping throughout the state because there is over pumping of our aquifers causing them to drop. This is also caused by upstream development robbing areas of water and discharge from sewer plants. In 1996 approximately, 15 percent of streams were considered pristine.  Today only one stream system in the state, the Flat Brook, meets all the criteria of the Clean Water Act. The sprawl line or the line of water monitors showed water impairments move 10 miles inland toward the headwaters of many stream systems. Also only 5 percent of our waterways are fishable or swimmable.”


“In the last 20 years six New Jersey reservoirs have closed because of pollution and thousands of wells have closed because contamination. This plan also doesn’t look at loss of water supply from surface water contamination and that we have closed thousands of wells since the last update. Our waters are too low and dirty to take water from. Saltwater intrusion is moving up the Cape May Peninsula faster than the traffic on the Parkway. New Jersey has serious problems with every aspect of water supply from quality, quantity, toxic chemicals, antiquated infrastructure, and more. Our water supply rivers are too low and dirty because DEP has failed to clean up our waterways. The Passaic and Raritan Rivers 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. At Little Falls, in summer time there is 90 percent sewage effluent and at times more than 10 mg nitrogen, which means we cannot use since it fails health based standard.”

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 “In the first plan, I was involved in recommending calling for the protection of streams and limiting development near our waterways. Instead this plan, gives the Administration cover for rolling back important rules for water protections such as the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules and Highlands Septic Density Rules. These rollbacks allow for less protections of waterways and more development in environmentally sensitive areas. They remove stream buffers and allow development on the most pristine streams. This means more pollution in our drinking water and less water availability. The Governor has stacked the Highlands Council and Pinelands Commission with people will promote this type of excessive development rather than defend our drinking water against these rollbacks. The Governor continues to attack these sensitive regions such as the Highlands, which provides drinking water to 5.4 million people, over half of New Jersey’s residents, and our major economic industries.”


“This update is another part of the Christie Administration’s attack on science. Gov. Christie has gotten rid of the Office of Climate Change within the DEP and denied climate change. He has stacked the Science Advisory Board with polluters and cut the Office of Science at the DEP. None of our rules or regulations include planning for climate impacts and weather pattern changes. The only science they care about is political science. New Jersey’s Clean Water Act says all waters of the state are considered potable and will need to be cleaned up to that level. The Christie administration is siding with polluters, instead of New Jersey’s drinking water.”

“The Christie Administration’s rollbacks have also lead to the numerous and widespread problems we’re seeing across the street with toxins in our drinking water. They have downgraded and eviscerated the DEP Division of Science and have replaced it with the Science Advisory Board which is primarily made up of polluters and corporate interests. The Drinking Water Quality Institute is back after five years but they haven’t adopted any standards for the 15 chemicals that need to be monitored in our water. This means that the DEP has not been adopting standards for all of these chemicals, including PFOA, perchlorate, PFNA, PFC, arsenic, chromium, and more. We’re finding chemicals and toxins in our drinking water sources across the state.”


“Lead is also a major problem in New Jersey, especially in our drinking water. Lead is a serious health threat, whether it’s in paint, soil, or water. Lead is one of the most hazardous substances known to man and it impacts children, especially small children, in our urban areas. Lead can cause illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities. Thousands of children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Jersey each year; over 3,000 in 2015 alone. New Jersey cities have old outdated pipes in our streets and homes which can mean even higher levels of lead in our water. Many of our water systems go back to the Victorian era and even homes built in the 30’s and 40’s have pipes made with lead sodder. We also don’t do enough testing at the faucet; most of the testing is done at the plant. This means that the lead from these old pipes come into our water before it gets to our homes.”


“DEP’s methods for water conservation don’t work. The DEP talks about water conservation when 30 percent of our pipes are leading and we need $8 billion to fix leaky pipes. In cities like Newark, Trenton, and Passaic Valley we have open-air finished reservoirs that contribute to the lead problems. Open-air reservoirs have led to outbreaks of cryptosporidium outbreaks and contamination from run-off, geese, and more. Since they are open-air, we can not add orthophosphates to the water to prevent lead from the pipes leaching into it.”

“We are seeing high bacteria levels in our reservoirs. When stormwater and pollution enter our waterways, the level of nutrients increases and oxygen levels drop. This dangerous algae bloom is also the result of warmer than usual temperatures that help accelerate bacteria growth from nutrient runoff. Phosphorus comes from animal and human waste as well as fertilizer. The more bacteria we see in our waterways, the more we are at risk from chlorine byproducts like chloroform or Trihalomethanes (THM). This not only changes the taste and color of the water so it won’t be as clear, but could have potential health impacts.”


“We have 3500 contaminated sites near drinking water wells. There are well fields in places with contaminated sites in cities such as Camden and Atlantic City. These are Categorical Exemption Areas where you can’t drill new wells because of groundwater transportation. Some people say Camden is doing a good job on water but all their schoolchildren are drinking out of bottles. The Trii-County Pipeline was meant to replace depleted and contaminated wells in South Jersey by bringing in fresh Delaware Water for drinking. Instead of the pipeline going to Camden and Pennsauken, most of it went south for new development on farmfields in Gloucester and Salem County.”

“We also need to do more to clean up our combined sewer overflow because they are a health hazard. Dilapidated storm water systems exacerbate the problem by increasing the water in combined sewers and we need funding to reduce the amount of water in sewers during major storm events. The biggest source of pollution we face is nonpoint pollution and we need to retrofit our stormwater basins to protect our waterways, while revitalizing our waterfront neighborhoods and communities. We need at least $13 billion just to fix our combined sewer overflow systems, but overall we need more than $45 billion to fix our water and sewage infrastructure. After Hurricane Sandy, we had over one hundred sewage plants knocked out and these facilities must be retrofitted so we can handle future flooding and severe storms. This has caused billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our waterways. We also have problems with infiltration and inflow that causes wastewater overflows into the pipes in the collection system.”


“In 1999, New Jersey almost ran out of water in the northern part of state. If it wasn’t for Hurricane Floyd, we would have. We were seeing a breakdown of our water supply where the Passaic River was too dirty to take water from and the Wanaque Reservoir’s filters were getting clogged with algae. The same things were happening at the Elizabethtown intake in Bridgewater. This situation could happen again because of our failure to clean-up nutrient pollution. We could be the first state East of the Colorado River to run out of water because of pollution, over-development, and climate impacts. We’ve had hearings before and we need to come up with solutions to these problems.”

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“We’ve already identified the problems with New Jersey’s drinking water supply and infrastructure. Fixing lead pipes alone is an $8 billion problem and dealing with Combined Sewer Overflows is a $14 billion one. We have a $47 billion problem overall and no political will to get it done. Private water companies don’t want to spend the money because they want a better rate of return that is so high that the BPU would never approve it. They don’t want to borrow the money either, so they don’t get in trouble with their foreign owners. The public companies don’t want to raise rates either to fix the problems because they don’t want the ratepayers or voters to get angry. Whether it’s old pipes leaking out water, contaminates like lead threatening our children, or problems with Combined Sewer Overflows. It’s time for real action to protect our drinking water supply and infrastructure. When you read this plan is the glass half empty or half full? We don’t know and we may not be able to drink what’s in the glass anyway.”

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The plan can be found attached and other information found here: 



Three public hearings will be held:

·  North – Millburn Public Library, Millburn, Wednesday, July 12, 2017 3:00

·  Central – 401 East State St, Trenton Tuesday, July 11, 2017 1:00

·  South – Stockton University, Board of Trustees Room, Campus Center, Thursday, July 13, 1:00

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