Monday, April 3, 2017

New Municipal Stormwater Permits in New Jersey

Municipal Stormwater Permits

Stormwater pollution, also called toxic stormwater runoff, or nonpoint source pollution, is one of the leading causes of water quality impairment in New Jersey. This form of pollution is insidious; the source is each and every one of us, and the footprints we create through development, construction of roads, and alteration of the natural water cycle. As stormwater flows over pavement, rooves, and compacted ground, it picks up pollutants, including animal waste and other pathogens, excess fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxic substances.

One example of this pollution problem is the Navesink River Watershed, where high bacteria levels triggered and exacerbated by stormwater runoff have recently closed shellfish beds and impacted recreational enjoyment on the river. While COA has worked at the local and watershed level in the Navesink, and found great success engaging communities to take action, statewide management and regulatory strategies are essential in the fight against toxic stormwater runoff. Unfortunately, we have made little progress since 2004, when the first municipal stormwater permits were issued. These permits were renewed in 2009, and expired in February of 2014, although the requirements continued to be in effect. However, for over 3 years, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has been regulating stormwater using expired and outdated municipal permits (called “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System” permits, or “MS4” permits).

These MS4 permits require each municipality to undertake specific actions related to stormwater mitigation and maintenance, and review potential development plans (like a new condo unit, or strip mall) for stormwater impacts. Yet, with the continued degradation of waterways like the Navesink River, it is clear that stronger MS4 permits are needed. Yet, when NJDEP had the chance  to redraft and issue an improved MS4 permit, they largely punted, and, except for some small improvements related to restructuring the permit, clearer language, and training requirements, the new MS4 permits are nearly the same exact permits that have been so ineffectual for all these years. COA is working with an alliance of organizations to review and provide comments on these permits, and will continue to work, both at the local, state, and regional level, on stormwater pollution solutions. Clearly, these new MS4 permits are the same old, and not a solution to our statewide water quality problems.

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