By Bill Leavens
Last month, Governor Christie and the Legislature reached an agreement on open space funding that is a clear victory for New Jersey and the Delaware River Watershed, as well as bipartisanship and democracy. After a year and a half of hard work by a diverse coalition of concerned organizations – including multiple groups who are also members of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed – this agreement, the Preserve New Jersey Act (S2456), will ensure that consistent funding is available to preserve open space, farmland, and historic sites throughout New Jersey. This bill protects drinking water from contamination, reduces air pollution, provides recreational opportunities, and improves quality of life. Additionally, it assures that succeeding generations will be able to enjoy New Jersey’s historic and cultural heritage.
This win, however, did not come easily. On May 23rd, Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the bill in an attempt to circumvent the will of the voters and use constitutionally dedicated funds for “routine operations and maintenance” instead of actual preservation. This conditional veto came after he already pocket vetoed the same legislation at the end of the previous legislative period. This was the second time he refused to sign the bipartisan legislation into law, even though voters had spoken decisively in favor of land preservation. In 2014, 65% of New Jerseyans voted for a constitutional amendment that would dedicate funds to open space, farmland, and historic preservation, but until the agreement at the end of June, money had still not gone out the door as a result of the Governor’s obstruction.
In the end though, the will of the people ultimately prevailed. Thanks to committed legislators, environmental groups, and concerned citizens, a compromise was reached and the original integrity of the bill was maintained. Our land will be protected.
This agreement has implications for the countless causes and environmental issues the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed fights for every day. For example, open space provides a groundwater recharge area that the Musconetcong Watershed Association and the greater Delaware River Watershed absolutely depend on to protect the quality of our water and the vegetation and animal populations it supports.
As a specific example in my watershed, in order for the river system to work properly to maintain clean and cool surface water, the Musconetcong Watershed requires that open space areas be properly preserved so that they are not contaminated with household septic effluent and agricultural chemicals. This protection from pollution is especially important in the Musconetcong Valley because surface water and ground water freely mix in a stream that is 80% underground.
Protection of the river and preservation of its high water quality can only occur if the surrounding lands are free from inappropriate development and intensive chemical agriculture.
Bill Leavens is a member of the Musconetcong Watershed Association Board of Directors and serves on the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ Board of Trustees. Bill is also a member of the Washington Township Planning Board and serves on the Township’s Environmental Commission. Bill kayaks in and flies a Luscombe over the Musconetcong Valley, photographing the MWA's dam removal and riparian restoration projects.