Reckless Legislation Could Delay Clean Water Protections

by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” So wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac in the mid-1700s.

Lyndon B. Johnson had similar thoughts some 200 years later: “A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its shortsightedness. The hard lessons of history are clear, written on the deserted sands and ruins of once proud civilizations.”


Gov. Corzine should bear those wise words in mind and use his veto power if legislation that fundamentally jeopardizes clean water protections winds up on his desk.

A bill promoted by the builders’ lobby in the lame duck session of the state Legislature would delay and undermine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules that are vital to protecting our drinking water.

The bill (Senate 2985/Assembly 4345), postpones for two more years the implementation of Water Quality Management Planning rules adopted in July 2008 after 13 years of delay.  In addition, the bill would require the DEP to approve any and all requests for sewer extensions for proposed developments, and would “grandfather” all projects that had ever received a permit at any level, even when the projects don’t meet current environmental or planning standards.

The water quality rules are a critical component of New Jersey’s “smart growth” planning efforts. If the rules are delayed, land development will proceed as it has for the last 50 years, resulting in continued sprawl and traffic congestion.

The rules set forth detailed, comprehensive environmental analysis and planning to determine appropriate areas to be served by sewers. Sewers would be kept out of environmentally sensitive, undeveloped areas over 25 acres in size that contain wetlands, pristine streams and water bodies, and threatened and endangered species habitat such as forests, which also preserve water quality.

And, for the first time, the rules would regulate large residential developments that use septic systems, a major source of groundwater pollution of wells throughout New Jersey.

Under the water quality rules, up to 300,000 acres of environmentally-sensitive land may be withdrawn from “sewer service areas,” places where sewers can be built or extended to accommodate residential and commercial development.  Many of these sewer service areas date back to the 1960s and do not have the capacity to absorb sewage, nor the infrastructure to accommodate development.

Protecting environmental resources brings long-term public benefits, including clean water, sustainable communities, recreational opportunities, and mitigation of global warming, as well as efficient development and lower taxes.

By delaying and undermining DEP rules and standards, the legislation, in effect, delays full implementation of the federal Clean Water Act – which was passed in 1972, almost 40 years ago.  It also promotes “dumb growth,” plunging our state’s drinking water safeguards and all of our talk about smart growth back to the dark ages!

It could also cost us money. The regional administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees implementation of the Clean Water Act, has publicly pointed out to legislators that approximately $1.6 million in federal funds have been awarded to New Jersey for the water quality planning process – funds that may be in jeopardy if the bill goes ahead.

This state we’re in needs more protections for our water, not less! Should this irresponsible legislation make it to Gov. Corzine’s desk, he should sink it with a stroke of his veto pen!

And even if this bill doesn’t pass in the lame duck session, citizens must be vigilant in case it shows up in the new legislative session later this month.
Please contact your state Senators and Assembly representatives, and the governor, and tell them to protect our water. To find your legislators, go to To contact the governor, go to or call 1-609-292-6000.

And I hope you will consult the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at for more information about conserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources.

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