The DEP announced the results of a DEP commissioned U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study that shows a lot of problems with New Jersey’s water quality. According to the study, levels of nutrients that cause algae in New Jersey’s waterways are declining or staying the same. Commissioner Martin is calling this a positive sign for water quality in New Jersey. However, what he doesn’t mention is that the levels of nitrates as nitrogen and phosphorous are an alarm bell going off.  Along with the Administration’s rollbacks in the Flood Hazard Rules, Coastal Zone Management Rules, and Stormwater Management Rules as well as the failure to update the Water Supply Master Plan; they have proposed changes in the Water Quality Management Planning rules that will increase violations from sewer plants, increase development and add more pollution to streams. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club released the following statement:


“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.”

NJ Release:


(17/P10) TRENTON – A benchmark study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection and Delaware River Basin Commission shows that levels of algae-causing nutrients in waterways are largely declining or holding steady, a positive sign for water quality in New Jersey, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

[cid:image003.jpg@01D290F2.D02E0D10] “Modernization of wastewater treatment plants, steps to better manage stormwater at the local level, decades of good work by the DEP, and tough laws protecting rivers and streams and ecologically sensitive areas along them are resulting in healthier waterways that enhance our quality of life in New Jersey,” Commissioner Martin said. “This report represents the most comprehensive analysis ever of nutrient trends in New Jersey and provides a valuable platform for developing management strategies that will even further improve water quality.”

The DEP commissioned the USGS to analyze data from 28 monitoring stations for long-term trends in levels of nitrogen and phosphorous present in waterways. In all, the USGS analyzed more than 82,000 data points collected over a 41-year period from a variety of urban, suburban, agricultural and protected areas.

“The U.S. Geological Survey and the DEP have a longstanding and productive partnership, one that is very unique,” said Bob Hirsch, a USGS scientist who co-authored the report. “Both agencies fully appreciate the importance residents in the nation’s most densely populated state place on water quality. With this comprehensive data set and newer statistical methods, we were able to provide our most detailed assessment yet of nutrient trends in the state.”

While phosphorous and nitrogen are naturally occurring and necessary for aquatic systems, excessive levels degrade water quality by exacerbating algae growth, which affects habitat for fish and other aquatic wildlife and can cause taste and odor issues in treated drinking water supplies. Excessive algal blooms also diminish recreational enjoyment of waterways. The most common sources of excessive nutrients to waterways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants; runoff containing residential and agricultural fertilizers, as well as animal wastes; and outdated or improperly functioning septic systems.

[cid:image005.jpg@01D290F2.D02E0D10]At 25 of the 28 study sites, concentrations of phosphorous and all forms of nitrogen decreased or did not change significantly. An upward trend in phosphorous levels was observed at a station at the West Branch of the Wading River in Woodland Township, Burlington County. Nitrogen levels increased at just two stations, one at the Toms River in Toms River, Ocean County, and the other at the Cohansey River in Upper Deerfield, Cumberland County. The results of the study will enable the DEP to conduct more comprehensive research into factors behind these changes.

The study found that water quality improvements took hold in the 1980s into the 1990s as wastewater treatment plants were modernized, in many cases regional plants replacing small local plants.  During the same period, the state also ratcheted up its efforts to better manage stormwater through its municipal stormwater permitting program.

This program requires local governments to implement stormwater control standards and best management practices for development projects, protect watersheds through steps such as animal waste ordinances, educate the public on impacts of stormwater, and take other steps to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff.

Over the years, the state has implemented rigorous standards for industrial and wastewater discharges, known as point sources, and is implementing innovative programs to address combined sewage-stormwater discharges in urban areas with antiquated infrastructure.
However, stormwater runoff pollution, also called nonpoint source pollution, is more difficult to address because of its widespread nature.

“Today, stormwater pollution remains our biggest water quality challenge,” said Dan Kennedy, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Water Resource Management. “The numbers from this study are very encouraging, showing us that we are making progress. But we also recognize that more works needs to be done, and that every homeowner and business owner can make a difference by making wise decisions regarding the use of fertilizers on lawns and in landscaping.”

In 2011, Governor Christie signed into law one of the nation’s toughest fertilizer laws. Now fully phased in, the law requires applicators to utilize best management practices when they apply fertilizers near waterways, requires certifications for professional applicators and lawn-care providers, and requires manufacturers to reformulate fertilizers to reduce the impacts of phosphorous and nitrogen on waterways.

The statewide fertilizer law was a product of the Christie Administration’s comprehensive strategy to address water quality in the highly populated and ecologically sensitive Barnegat Bay watershed. This effort includes making tens of millions of dollars available to local governments for improved stormwater infrastructure, extensive scientific research on indicators of bay health, and an extensive public awareness effort that includes periodic watershed-wide volunteer trash cleanups.

The USGS launched its nutrient evaluation in 2012, reviewing data collected between 1971 and 2011 from the state’s Ambient Surface-Water Quality Monitoring Network, which today includes 73 fixed locations. The compilation of the final report entailed extensive data analysis with state-of-the-art statistical methods. The USGS selected monitoring stations that had the longest available data sets. The sampling points included were among the first established as part of the monitoring network.

The USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5176, Trends in the Quality of Water in New Jersey Streams, Water Years 1971-2011, is available for download at:

For more on New Jersey’s fertilizer law, visit: