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State of New Jersey-Department of Environmental Protection-DEP Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Guidance
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Highlands Terms

Highlands Region
The New Jersey Highlands Region is an over 800,000 acre region covering over 1,250 square miles and 88 municipalities in seven counties (Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren). The Highlands Region is an essential source of drinking water for half of the residents of New Jersey.

Highlands Preservation Area
Of the over 800,000 acres that make up New Jersey’s Highlands Region, the Highlands Act designates approximately 398,000 acres of exceptional natural resource value as the Highlands Preservation Area. Approximately 145,000 acres within the Highlands Preservation Area are undeveloped. All of the land in the Highlands Region that is not in the Highlands Preservation Area lies within the Highlands Planning Area. A complete description of the Highlands Preservation Area boundaries is set forth in Section 7 of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

Highlands Planning Area
The Highlands Planning Area is the portion of the Highlands Region that is not included in the Highlands Preservation Area. While the Act does not establish any new standards for the Highlands Planning Area, the Highlands regional master plan, which must be adopted by the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, will provide an avenue for enhanced standards, TDR and smart growth in this portion of the Highlands Region.

Highlands Open Waters
Highlands open waters means all springs, streams including intermittent streams, wetlands, and bodies of surface water, whether natural or artificial, located wholly or partially within the boundaries of the Highlands Region, but shall not mean swimming pools.

Major Highlands Development
"Major Highlands development" means, except as otherwise provided pursuant to subsection a. of section 30 of the Highlands Water Protection and Preservation Act, (1) any non-residential development in the preservation area; (2) any residential development in the preservation area that requires an environmental land use or water permit or that results in the ultimate disturbance of one acre or more of land or a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more; (3) any activity undertaken or engaged in the preservation area that is not a development but results in the ultimate disturbance of one-quarter acre or more of forested area or that results in a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more on a lot; or (4) any capital or other project of a State entity or local government unit in the preservation area that requires an environmental land use or water permit or that results in the ultimate disturbance of one acre or more of land or a cumulative increase in impervious surface by one-quarter acre or more. Major Highlands development shall not mean an agricultural or horticultural development or agricultural or horticultural use in the preservation area.

Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council
The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council is charged with preparing a regional master plan for the Highlands' Preservation area and Planning Area. The Council's 15 members, appointed by the Governor, must formally adopt the regional master plan within 18 months of their first meeting. The Highlands Council's authority includes identifying environmental and farmland preservation priorities within the Preservation Area, designating critical areas within the Planning area, supporting a Highlands Transfer of Development Rights program, and advising the DEP on Highlands water resources regulations.

Regional Master Plan
The regional master plan is intended to protect, preserve and enhance precious water resources, open space and the wealth of unique natural resources within the Highlands Region; to prohibit or limit to the maximum extent possible construction or development which is incompatible with such preservation; and to encourage, consistent with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, appropriate, development, redevelopment and economic growth.

Regulated Activities
All major Highlands development as defined in the Highlands rules that is located in the Highlands Preservation Area shall require a Highlands Preservation Area Approval from the DEP.

The Highlands Preservation Area Approval will consist of the standards in the Highlands rules (pdf) established pursuant to the Highlands Act and related aspects of other regulatory programs including the "Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, "The Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act,", the "Water Supply Management Act,", the "Water Pollution Control Act,", "The Realty Improvement Sewerage and Facilities Act, the "Water Quality Planning Act," the "Safe Drinking Water Act,", the "Flood Hazard Area Control Act," and any rules and regulations adopted pursuant to these Acts.