WHEREAS, water is the lifeblood of the agricultural industry, and agricultural access to adequate water supply is a critical concern for New Jersey’s farmers; and this need is especially urgent during periods of drought when restrictions on water use could catastrophically affect farm income for the production year; and
WHEREAS, even absent drought conditions, ensuring an adequate water supply, both now and in the future, is essential to protecting the production capability and economic stability of agriculture; and
WHEREAS, many New Jersey farmers implement water-management practices as a routine part of their conservationist approach to agriculture; and
WHEREAS, the Department has worked with the NJDEP to restore some of the agricultural water allocations in the restricted water supply areas in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester Counties in Critical Area 2 and in Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex Counties in Critical Area 1; however, despite these efforts (which included advocating for the Tri-County Pipeline), agricultural water concerns still persist, and New Jersey’s farmers face increasing water supply restrictions, particularly in Critical Areas 1 and 2; and many agricultural water certifications are being subjected to reductions in their allocations based upon actual water usage; and
WHEREAS, in 1987, the NJDEP completed a study that showed the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy (PRM) aquifer, at the time the major source of drinking water in southwestern New Jersey, was being rapidly depleted, resulting in the Tri-County Pipeline project to provide potable water from sources other than the PRM aquifer.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 96th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 8-9, 2011, direct the Department of Agriculture to continue working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to address water supply and water quality issues by continuing to participate in the NJDEP’s Statewide Water Supply Master Plan process and by strategically planning and promoting the implementation of federal and state conservation cost-share programs.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the NJDEP to ensure that they plan for adequate water resources for New Jersey’s farmers, realizing that such planning is critical to overall farm management.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the NJDEP to amend their water allocation restrictions to exempt farming operations from further water-allocation reductions if they have already implemented water management practices.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department and NJDEP to explore the establishment of an Agricultural Water Allocation Credit Program, whereby farmers who employ water conservation practices that utilize water at a rate that is below their permit allocations at certain times, be permitted to correspondingly increase water use at other times. Such a program would encourage the implementation of water conservation measures within the agricultural community and improve the viability of the agricultural industry by allowing water usage to be tailored to fit the needs of each agricultural operation. We also request that all agricultural water use authorizations that are reverted back to the NJDEP be set aside for agricultural use only.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department to work with NJDEP to ensure that all water-related plans, policies and programs of the state recognize the critical role that farmland plays in providing recharge of water to underlying aquifer systems and surface water supplies.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge all municipalities located along the Tri-County Pipeline project and those served by the Raritan Water Supply Authority to utilize those sources of potable water, as opposed to utilizing groundwater, thereby reserving as much available groundwater as possible for agricultural operations.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the continuation of the previous efforts of the Department and Rutgers Cooperative Extension, who were working with the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA) in developing a draft Ag Water Conservation Plan that will outline specific best management practices addressing water conservation and water quality protection. Once the Plan is developed and agreed upon, farmers withdrawing surface water from the NJWSA’s Manasquan Reservoir and Raritan Basin water systems would be encouraged to implement these plans on their operations when contracting with the NJWSA.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we insist that the NJDEP consider the needs of agricultural operations when developing policies and programs that involve water quality issues, such as stormwater management and impervious coverage limitations.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage producers to use water conservation technologies and to utilize any available state and federal cost-share grants to implement such measures and continue to look for new and efficient methods to conserve water on farms, including drip irrigation, water recapture and reuse, and enhanced on-farm water storage techniques.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge a review by the Attorney General to reaffirm the statutory language that agricultural operations are exempt from fees and surcharges for water and water use.
The NJDA has been successful in establishing an on-going dialogue between the agencies and organizations that regulate, and advocate for, agricultural water; including NJDEP Bureau of Water Allocation staff, county agricultural agents, the State Board of Agriculture, department staff and others to help resolve some ongoing water allocation procedural issues and to provide insight into the NJDEP’s water allocation decision-making process.
Most of the water allocation application backlog was cleared through the implementation of a strategic plan developed by the NJDEP Bureau of Water Allocation that focused on expediting the processing of applications.
The present water demands of agriculture represent approximately six percent of the state’s total water demand in the state; and the long-term water needs of New Jersey’s agricultural community must be equally considered during the ongoing Water Supply Master Planning process.
The NJDA prepared comments outlining agriculture’s concerns with the proposed and adopted amendments to the NJDEP’s Agricultural, Aquacultural and Horticultural Water Usage Certification Rules and met several times with Division of Water Supply staff in conjunction with Rutgers Cooperative Extension to discuss those concerns. The agricultural community’s concerns with the adopted rule change continued to be the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) filing requirement and administrative fee.
Recently the DRBC announced that the agency would no longer collect its $500 administrative fee from farmers withdrawing 100,000 gallons or more of surface or ground water from the Delaware River Basin. Despite this recent good news, other water authorities are also imposing rate changes and assessments to water users who request modifications to their existing water allocation permits or request new water allocation permits in areas under the authority’s jurisdiction.