Current rules are inadequate to protect the aquifer. NJ Department of Environmental Protection and Pinelands Commission must act now.
The NJ Department of Environmental Protection currently reviews all requests for allocations of water from the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer and other fresh water sources. The thresholds the Department applies have proven inadequate to protect the aquifer from the cumulative and individual impacts of withdrawals on surface waters. The Pinelands Commission is also charged with reviewing all allocation requests, but historically has not applied any specific thresholds to protect Pinelands resources from the impacts of removing water from the aquifer.
Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) proposes that both agencies adopt and apply the following three-tiered regulatory thresholds to all Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer allocation requests. These thresholds derive from the state’s Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Study and are based on biological effects and indicators.
New or increased allocations from the Kirkwood-Cohansey, or withdrawals that will affect the Kirkwood-Cohansey, should only be approved if there are no alternative sources for a demonstrated need. Alternative sources include, at a minimum, confined aquifers, bulk purchases from non-Kirkwood-Cohansey sources, conjunctive uses and water conservation.
The agencies should not permit any new or increased allocation that, individually or cumulatively with other current or pending allocations, would exceed stated percentages of recharge at the watershed level.
We specifically recommend the following thresholds be applied either at the HUC-14 scale or by Pinelands CMP Management Area within each municipality:
Withdrawing 5 percent of recharge from the Kirkwood-Cohansey has been found by the Pinelands Commission to be associated with alteration of ecological metrics such as changes in wetland class and conversion of wetlands to uplands. Withdrawing 15 percent of recharge is associated with more significant impacts to stream flow in addition to wetland impacts.
The agencies should also set a threshold on anticipated impacts to wetlands due to a new or increased allocation.
PPA specifically recommends the adoption of the following thresholds based on impacts to wetlands, which can be evaluated using either or both of the “Theim” or the “Gompertz” equation models analyzed in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Study:
A drawdown level of 15cm is a reasonable threshold, as this level of drawdown has been shown in studies conducted by the Pinelands Commission to impact wetland communities, particularly populations of a federally endangered wetland plant species, Helonias bullata (swamp pink). An extent of 10 percent of total wetland area experiencing 15cm of drawdown is a reasonable threshold in ecologically sensitive areas because this is the approximate value associated with a 5 percent withdrawal:recharge ratio. A 5 percent withdrawal: recharge ratio has been shown by the Pinelands Commission to be associated with changes in ecological metrics such as changes in wetland class and conversion of wetlands to uplands.
Current regulations have proven inadequate to protect the aquifer.
An extent of 15 percent of total wetland area experiencing 15cm of drawdown is a reasonable threshold in more developed (or developable, as per Pinelands regulations) areas, as this value is correlated with a 10 percent withdrawal:recharge ratio. And, as shown by the Pinelands Commission, a 10 percent withdrawal:recharge ratio has more significant impacts on stream flow in addition to wetland impacts.
The DEP and Pinelands Commission should require quantifiable water conservation measures in the same sub-watershed to offset expected impacts of new and increased withdrawals. This is already a requirement of the Pinelands regulations, but it has never been enforced.
The agencies should adopt incentives into the allocation process, so water purveyors can withdraw more water if they adopt proven and sustainable water conservation measures.
The DEP and Pinelands Commission should require recipients of allocations to monitor and report streamflow and water table changes going forward, and to report the results to the agencies and the public.
The state agencies should set a regulatory trigger that suspends new or increased allocations, or reduces existing allocation limits, in any watershed where the monitoring data shows a trend of increasingly severe impacts of current withdrawals beyond the expected impacts on which the allocation was based.
The DEP and Pinelands Commission rules include a variety of measures aimed at protecting water quality from the effects of development, agricultural runoff and chemical spills. These rules have surely brought great benefits, but they have also proven to need reforms in light of experience showing that the waters of the Kirkwood-Cohansey and the streams and wetlands it feeds are suffering real harms to water quality due to human activities. These reforms are specifically aimed at one of the most important types of non-point source contamination: nutrients. Natural levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Pinelands are extremely low – that’s a lot of what makes the Pine Barrens the way it is, a haven for plants and wildlife that are adapted to its naturally acidic, low-nutrient conditions.
The Governor must institute a program of watershed-based growth management aimed at dramatically reducing the amount of nutrients. This program must:
The State, Pinelands Commission and Municipalities must use the stormwater rules, Pinelands regulations, and local ordinances to require that new development use low-impact development techniques that reduce the volume of stormwater and reduce nutrient inputs (rather than control only the rate of stormwater flows and remove only sediments). Such techniques should include:
The Governor should accelerate the funding and implementation of restoration projects that:
The State needs to revise the Residential Site Improvement Standards to include narrower street widths and narrower pavements, reduce parking lot requirements, and allow for shared parking. The State and Municipalities should require continuing education in low impact development for members of land use boards, professionals, and consultants.
State agencies must revise their regulations, including: