Sprawl & Overdevelopment Make Flooding Worse, According To NJ Sierra Club

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STATE – Some New Jersey residents are still cleaning up from the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and subsequent storms, and one environmental advocacy group warns that future effects could be even worse if state officials continue to allow overdevelopment and sprawl.

“Nature brings the rains but man makes floods worse.Sprawl and overdevelopment turn small flood into a disaster,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club. “If we want to control flooding we have to control sprawl and overdevelopment. The typical forested acre of land will soak up to three inches of water, saving more than a million gallons per acre of downstream flooding. Every time we pave over the forest, we send more waters downstream and put people in harm’s way.”

New Jersey continues to promote development in flood prone and wetland areas, the group charges. The major areas that have flooded along the Passaic and Raritan basins are growth areas in the State Plan where government is trying to promote and encourage growth, putting more people in harm’s way. Fast-growing areas in Burlington and Salem counties received tremendous amounts of flooding.

“We keep building in places where nature says no and then we wonder why those properties get flooded.We need to move people out of harm’s way if we want to limit the impact of flooding,” Tittel said.

“If we keep weakening environmental protections we will have to buy out more and more homes because the more we allow development in the wrong places the more flooding gets worse and the more housing we will have to buy,” Titel added.

According to the New Jersey Sierra Club, the state should:

  • Eliminate the Loophole for Redevelopment Currently, redevelopment projects are exempt from New Jersey’s storm water and flood hazard rules. As the state is redeveloped a state with as much development as New Jersey, it offers a chance to fix the problems of the past. Unless this loophole is eliminated to require retrofitting of storm water systems and limiting impervious cover on these sites, no matter what else is done, flooding will continue to get worse.
  • Stop the Rollback of Critical Environmental Regulations The Governor is weakening rules on stormwater, flood hazard areas, stream buffers, and the Highlands and the DEP has just proposed a waiver rule that would exempt numerous projects from department regulation. These policies must be stopped as their implementation only results in more flooding.
  • Update Maps of Flood Hazard Areas Many of the maps are thirty years old and some parts of the state do not have maps. Many more people are living in flood prone areas because these maps are so out of date. Without knowledge of where these areas are, we are allowing more development and putting more people in harm’s way. The new maps should take into consideration increased flooding and sea level rise due to global warming.
  • Eliminate Loopholes that Destroy Headwaters of Sensitive Streams Most prevalent is the loophole where the state does not have jurisdiction to protect stream drainages smaller than 50 acres. However, it is just these drainage areas that are the most sensitive and crucial to protecting water quality. Once you lose the high quality waters at the headwaters, the rest of the stream suffers.
  • Develop Impervious Cover Limits In order to address the chronic flooding that has occurred in New Jersey, the state needs to develop impervious cover limits in flood-prone watersheds. Impervious cover includes buildings, pavement, and lawns, which do not absorb storm water.
  • Limit Development in Flood Plains Building in flood plains creates more flooding and puts more people’s lives and properties at risk. The increase in impervious cover eliminates recharge areas and therefore stricter limits on new development in flood plains should be immediately imposed. There should be zero net fill and no new structures in flood plains.
  • Implement Category One Anti-degradation Requirements These requirements should be incorporated into the new rules. The same regulations for crossing streams and allowing for new development should not apply to the state’s most sensitive environmental areas where stronger standards are warranted. The outstanding basin water designation should be strengthened to be the equivalent of Category One protection waters in New Jersey and then adopted for the Delaware River basin above Trenton and its tributaries.
  • Flood Mitigation Develop basin-wide flood mitigation. Plan to help lessen the impact of flooding on already-existing developed neighborhoods. Develop non-structural mechanisms to help diminish the impact of flooding on these communities.
  • Regional Planning It is impossible to manage water without managing land. Currently there is no regional planning entity for the Delaware River Basin. The NJ Sierra Club believes the Delaware River Basin Commission should have land use powers. It also believes that the four-state region along the basin needs to develop strong regional planning to help prevent overdevelopment from causing more flooding.

“There have been dozens of studies on flooding on the Passaic, Raritan, and Delaware Rivers and the only thing we get out of them is if we use them to raise our furniture during a flood event because they sit on shelves and help no one,” Tittel said.

“Without real growth management protecting our countryside and open spaces from overdevelopment, New Jersey will always be underwater no matter what we do. The more we build upstream the more downstream areas will be underwater. We have seen decades worth of studies and no action. We need to stop talking and actually start getting things done when it comes to overdevelopment and sprawl to protect the people of New Jersey from flooding. Without real planning and growth management we will have to put our houses on platoons,” Tittel concluded.

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