Setting Legislative Priorities for the Delaware River Watershed in NJ

Setting Legislative Priorities for the Delaware River Watershed in NJ

By Alex Ambrose, Policy Assistant, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters

Coalition members at the New Jersey State House during the first Clean Water Education Day in June 2018.

Coalition members at the New Jersey State House during the first Clean Water Education Day in June 2018.

New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, the State Policy Lead for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, is proud to announce New Jersey’s 2019 State Priorities. Along with the Coalition’s federal policy priorities, State Lead organizations are encouraged during the meeting to adopt their own, state-specific priorities, that complement the watershed-wide adopted priorities.

1. Promote and defend funding and policies for the New Jersey’s water and conservation programs.

It’s often said that New Jersey has consistent water problems—we either have too much, too little, or what we have is too dirty. Because of this, the breadth and depth of water policies in New Jersey seems unending, which is why the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is so important. We will continue to ensure NJDEP funding this year during budget season so that they have the resources and staff to take care of our water resources.

2. Support restoring New Jersey’s contribution to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to the full “fair share” level of $893,000.

The DRBC is a four-state agency that is charged with taking care of the water quality and quantity of the Delaware River. New Jersey is one of three states that have not been fully honoring its 1988 commitment to fund the DRBC, which has led to a decrease in programs, science, protections, and staffing. Last year’s state budget funding for the DRBC was short by $200,000—this year we will continue our advocacy work during budget season and educate lawmakers on the importance of supporting the DRBC.

According to the DRBC, 1.9 million people in New Jersey are served by the Delaware River Watershed.   Photo credit: Delaware River Basin Commission

According to the DRBC, 1.9 million people in New Jersey are served by the Delaware River Watershed.
Photo credit: Delaware River Basin Commission

3. Reverse the previous administration’s rollbacks that severely threaten water quality including the Freshwater Wetlands Rules, Water Quality Management Plan consistency determinations for the Highlands, and Flood Hazard Rules.

During the previous administration, several regulations that protected New Jersey’s drinking water, especially in environmentally important regions such as the Highlands and Pinelands. Last year the legislature opposed Highlands Septic Density rollbacks, which would have increased dangerous development in the Highlands region. We are thrilled to see this first step and will continue to share information about the importance of these environmental protections with the NJDEP and the Administration.

4. Advocate for appointments to the Highlands Council and Pinelands Commission who support the mission of the Regional Master Plan (RMP) or Comprehensive Master Plan (CMP), respectively.

The Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission are two critical regional planning authorities that are charged with protecting the water resources of millions in Highlands region and the Pinelands region, respectively. The previous administration weakened the independence of both the Council and the Commission by appointing members who did not have qualifying experience or did not believe in the mission of the agencies. Fortunately, last year we celebrated the Highlands Council’s new Chair and Executive Director, both of whom are highly qualified and will uphold the Highlands Regional Master Plan. This year, we will be focusing on both advocating for more new members to the Highlands Council, and for the swift confirmation of nominated appointees to the Pinelands Commission.

5. Promote stormwater programs and best practices to address flooding, reduce polluted runoff, and modernize infrastructure.

New Jersey members meet at the Coalition's annual meeting in January 2019 to discuss state priorities.

New Jersey members meet at the Coalition's annual meeting in January 2019 to discuss state priorities.

We are so excited that this year we have added this as a brand-new priority. Stormwater programs, or stormwater utilities, are considered the most equitable solutions to addressing polluted runoff and flooding issues. When it rains, either the water enters the ground, or flows across hardened picking up oil and grease and becomes polluted runoff. Stormwater programs attempt to address this by establishing fees to fund infrastructure upgrades to guard against the risk of pollution and flooding. Now that these programs are legal thanks to the Flood Defense Act, municipalities have the option to “opt-in” if they so choose.

In all of this work, we will be working together with our Coalition partners to advance good policies, share information, and continue educating the public on the importance of the Delaware River to New Jerseyans. New Jersey LCV Education Fund is so excited to continue our role as State Policy Lead for the Coalition and our work in protecting our clean water sources.