A New Start for New Jersey on Water Pollution & Flooding

Last month’s inauguration of a new governor presents a great opportunity to start cleaning up New Jersey’s waterways.

After eight years of the Christie administration slashing environmental protections, pollution and urban flooding are on the rise. The Murphy administration has its work cut out for it when it comes to tackling the problem of stormwater runoff.

But the path forward is clear. The environmental advocacy community has offered two key recommendations for the newly appointed commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Catherine McCabe. A coalition of eight organizations sent the following letter to Ms. McCabe this morning asking DEP to take action.


Dear Acting Commissioner McCabe:

As longtime advocates for clean water in New Jersey, we are excited to work with Governor Murphy’s new administration on much-needed reforms to stormwater management. Polluted runoff from cities and suburbs is New Jersey’s greatest water quality challenge. About one-third to one-half of all water bodies in the state are violating water quality standards because of runoff pollution, including beloved waters like Barnegat Bay. Stormwater also contributes to costly urban flooding that damages homes, businesses, and roads. Over the last decade, lax regulation has allowed these problems to worsen. We must do more to protect our communities and the rivers, streams, and bays that our families cherish.

Fortunately, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has two opportunities to take action right away.

1. Propose comprehensive updates to stormwater management rules, stronger than DEP’s 2017 draft. DEP should move forward with a long-overdue rulemaking to modernize ineffective regulations, adopted in 2004, that govern stormwater management on development sites. But a proposed rule should take a much stronger approach than the one DEP presented to stakeholders near the end of the Christie administration. At that time, DEP suggested a narrow amendment: requiring new development sites to manage runoff using green infrastructure. We support the idea behind that change. However, unless accompanied by broader changes to the existing rules, it will not protect water quality or substantially mitigate flooding. Revised rules must also strengthen DEP’s existing, weak performance standards and apply them both to new development and redevelopment sites. We urge DEP to make all of the necessary improvements now, in a single rulemaking. DEP should not defer resolution of the most critical issues.

2. Withdraw and revise weak municipal stormwater permits that DEP issued near the end of the Christie administration. DEP should withdraw and revise the inadequate statewide stormwater permits issued last November. These municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) general permits are DEP’s most critical tool for tackling polluted runoff at the local level. The permits in place from 2004 to 2017 failed to protect local waterways. Yet when those permits expired, the Christie administration squandered the chance to adopt the necessary improvements, which we have identified for DEP in great detail. Instead, DEP reissued permits with the same toothless terms. These new permits violate the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act, which is why some of our organizations have appealed them in court. We urge you to strengthen them by requiring municipalities to take meaningful steps to reduce pollution and meet water quality standards.

Thank you for considering our views on the administrative actions needed to tackle New Jersey’s stormwater problem.

Sincerely,

Emma Melvin, Delaware Bayshore Program Director
American Littoral Society

Cindy Zipf, Executive Director
Clean Ocean Action

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
Delaware Riverkeeper Network

Michele Langa, Staff Attorney
Hackensack Riverkeeper

Rebecca Hammer, Deputy Director of Federal Water Policy & Senior Attorney
Lawrence Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure & Senior Attorney
Natural Resources Defense Council

Michele Langa, Staff Attorney
NY/NJ Baykeeper

Rich Bizub, Director for Water Programs
Pinelands Preservation Alliance

Michael Pisauro, Jr., Policy Director
Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

About the Authors

Becky Hammer

Deputy Director, Federal Water Policy; Senior Attorney, Nature Program

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