In America we often take clean and plentiful water for granted. But clean drinking water is more and more in the news. Droughts are devastating water supplies out West and the crisis in Flint, Michigan has shed a spotlight on aging infrastructure, shortcuts and lack of investment that result in dangerous toxins in our kitchen tap water.
With such difficult and thorny issues threatening one of life’s basic necessities, it’s alarming that New Jersey officials are considering opening the door to even more threats to the water supply of this State We’re In.
The reservoirs, rivers and underground aquifers in the state’s Highlands region supply water to over 6 million people in 332 municipalities across 16 counties – 70 percent of the state’s population!
If you live in the Highlands Region (portions of Bergen, Hunterdon, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Sussex and Warren Counties) your water most likely comes from private or public wells that draw on the region’s groundwater. If you live outside the Highlands in Passaic, Essex, or Hudson counties, it is likely that 75% to 100% of your water is Highlands water drawn from its many reservoirs. Bergen and Union counties rely on the Highlands for most of their water. Middlesex, Mercer and the non-Highlands portions of Somerset counties rely on it for at least a quarter of their water. Even Monmouth, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties use some Highlands water.
This water supply – critical to the life and health of New Jersey’s residents, economy and ecosystems – was protected in 2004 when the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act became law. This bi-partisan, forward-thinking act was a crucial step to safeguarding both the supply and quality of the state’s drinking water.
The Highlands Act stemmed sprawl development in the most sensitive region of the state. Had the building continued – at an average rate of 5,000 acres per year in the region - New Jersey would have had to spend billions cleaning up and filtering the water supply.
In addition, the Highlands Act and its Regional Master Plan reduce flooding. Every three acres of forest can absorb up to 1 million gallons of water. This natural sponge allows water to be absorbed into underground aquifers while slowing down flood waters.
Unfortunately, once again these vital water resources are under threat. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) has proposed to severely weaken the Highlands rule that protects critical drinking water supplies and forests. If adopted, this amended “septic density standard” would dramatically increase the amount of residential development that could occur in the most environmentally sensitive half of the Highlands Region – the Preservation Area.
To continue protections for clean drinking water, the Department of Environmental Protection should retain the current "septic system density standard" and withdraw the proposed changes. If allowed to go forward, the new standards would dramatically increase the amount of new residential development permitted on remaining large, undeveloped tracts of land in the Highlands Preservation Area.
By protecting the state’s northern waters – which flow downstream – we protect the health of our communities. And if that isn’t enough, our economy depends on clean water for manufacturing, farming, tourism, and recreation.
So why would we jeopardize this fragile resource … especially when we have already put measures in place to protect it at its source? When utilities draw water from a clean supply, it means less treatment, less expense and a greater likelihood that it is fit to drink at the tap.
Please contact the NJ DEP today and urge them to withdraw this damaging proposal. Let’s keep our hard-won protections for water quality and supply. Here’s an easy link to help you send a message to NJ DEP: http://act.njconservation.org/highlandswater
To learn more about the Highlands Region and what is being done to protect it, go to the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council website at http://www.state.nj.us/njhighlands. Another great resource is the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, a nonprofit devoted to protecting, enhancing and restoring the region: www.njhighlandscoalition.org.
For more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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