The DEP released another study trying to say our water is cleaner, when really it is not. They are using cherry picked data from the USGS to show some areas that have seen declines in pollution. The problem is when you look at where people are getting their drinking water, those water supplies are getting dirtier not cleaner. While DEP says these organic chemicals are naturally occurring, they are really putting out alternative facts because they are directly from runoff and sewer plants. This means there is actually more runoff and dissolved oxygen in our waterways. When you look deeper at the data, the amount of nitrates are actually increasing in many areas throughout the state, which is a huge risk to public health because many of those areas are water supply sources. What DEP doesn’t want you to know is that they are downplaying the science because people are drinking contaminated water.

Even when DEP says pollution is in decline, those areas are still considered rated polluted. The water bodies that they are reporting declines in are still considered impaired for nitrate pollution under the EPA’s 303d list. These streams may have seen some declines, but they are still not considered clean. These are also not drinking water sources so they are really playing games to downplay the problems with our drinking water supply.

This report is an alarm bell going off that our water supply intakes are not as clean as they should be. Phosphorous is one of the biggest pollutants in New Jersey that occurs from dissolved oxygen levels. Nitrogen is another threat to our water supply because it is linked to health problems in infants like blue baby syndrome and for people with autoimmune disease. The Passaic River at Two Bridges, Hackensack River and Ramapo River showed an increase for nitrates, which is a huge red flag because they are major water supply sources. These water bodies are even used to pump water into our reservoirs during a drought so could cause a huge threat to public safety.

A major problem with this report is there is no data in newly developed areas of the state so we can analyze environmental impacts. By not including certain sites and newly developed areas, this report is just a lot of spin to make things look better than they are. While areas of Burlington are seeing more phosphorous, nitrogen levels are increasing in Ocean and Cumberland Counties. What the DEP is doing is leaving out all of the newly developed areas of the state so things don’t look as bad.

While our streams and water supply intakes should be cleaner, they are not because the Christie Administration has rolled back environmental protections. With the Governor’s new rules to remove buffers from category one streams in the Flood Hazard Rules, increase pollution from sewer plants and sewer hook-ups in the Water Quality Management Planning rules, our water quality will have even bigger declines. By allowing the extension of sewers, it will have a major impact open space and nearby reservoirs and streams throughout the state, especially in the most environmentally sensitive areas of the Highlands and Pinelands. This is all part of the Governor protecting developers and polluters instead of our waterways. What the Christie Administration is doing is putting a good face on failed policies that are actually making things worse.”

This USGS report is just playing games with the data so they can justify increasing development in environmentally sensitive areas of the Highlands and Pinelands. By not having a comprehensive look at the entire state, this report is just junk science because it was paid for by the DEP to get the results they want. What they fail to mention is that our state is currently in need of at least $8 billion for wastewater treatment plants upgrades, while they have rolled back important water protections like the Stormwater Management Rules. The Christie Administration has actually paved over environmentally sensitive areas, destroying water quality and put more pollution in our streams and waterways. They are putting out this study as an attempt to disguise the Governor’s rolling back 45 years of environmental protections.

Jeff Tittel

NJ Sierra Club Director