CHRISTIE ADMINISTRATION'S ACTION PLAN TOWARD LONG-TERM
RESTORATION OF BARNEGAT BAY QUICKLY PROGRESSING
(11/P77) TRENTON - The Christie Administration continues to advance its commitment to restore Barnegat Bay, taking clear and effective steps to bring this important resource back from decades of ecological decline, Commissioner Bob Martin said today at a news conference on the progress of the Governor’s comprehensive action plan to restore and protect Barnegat Bay.
Over the past six months, since reaching a key agreement that will lead to the safe closure of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in 2019 – a decade ahead of its license expiration, the Christie Administration has made tangible progress on each of the Governor’s 10 action points outlined in his December announcement to restore the Bay’s health, Commissioner Martin said during the event at the Toms River Municipal Center.
Some key accomplishments so far, the Commissioner said, include:
- $44 million in grants and loans made available to local governments for nearly 100 projects, primarily upgrades to aging and ineffective stormwater systems;
- State contribution of more than $2.2 million to preserve more than 1,500 acres of land that will help protect the quality of water that flows into the bay;
- Launching of an ecosystem-based water quality monitoring program that will greatly improve scientific understanding of the Bay;
- Implementation of the nation’s toughest fertilizer law, which will help the Bay and nutrient-stressed waterways across New Jersey;
- Partnering with federal agencies to leverage $1.6 million for installation and maintenance of water flow gauging at tributaries to and outlets from Barnegat Bay;
- Eight science research projects have been identified that will provide valuable information to help develop water quality standards to improve the health of the Bay;
- Launching of a multi-pronged education campaign to help residents and visitors understand how they can help protect this natural resource.
“The Christie Administration made an unprecedented commitment to restoration and protection of this beautiful bay and waterways across New Jersey,” Commissioner Martin said. “We got off to a running start by negotiating the early closure of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant and we have worked hard ever since on implementing the other goals of the Governor’s action plan.
“The steps we are taking are real, on-the ground actions that will make a big difference in revitalizing the health of an estuary that is such an integral part of New Jersey’s identity and tourism economy.”
The 660-square-mile Barnegat Bay watershed encompasses most or parts of 33 municipalities in Ocean County and four in Monmouth County. The 75-square-mile bay supports aquatic vegetation, shellfish beds, finfish habitats, waterfowl nesting areas, and provides spectacular vistas. Its population of more than 500,000 people more than doubles during the summer season.
The Bay’s complex water quality problems stem in part from stormwater runoff laden with nutrients from lawn and landscaping fertilizers that foster excessive algae and plant growth, which reduce dissolved oxygen in the water that aquatic life needs. The Bay’s problems also result from its geology, since it is shallow and flushes nutrients out into the ocean very slowly.
Following an extensive stakeholder process, Governor Christie in December issued an aggressive 10-point action plan to deal with these issues. The state has made significant progress, Commissioner Martin said, elaborating on the following developments:
- Close the Oyster Creek Generating Station: Cooling water intakes and discharges from the plant impact aquatic life in the estuary. The DEP has proposed a New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit formalizing the closure of the plant by the end of 2019, 10 years before expiration of its federal license. The DEP has formed an Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel to engage the public and review ongoing operations and safety plans leading to plant closure. The first meeting will be held in September.
- Fund Stormwater Runoff Mitigation Projects: Much of the deterioration of the bay can be traced to runoff from lawns and streets. The DEP is making $44 million available to local governments in Ocean and Monmouth counties for principal-forgiveness loans and grants for stormwater-control projects and equipment purchases, such as modernization of stormwater basins, construction of wetlands to filter pollutant, and purchases of street sweepers. The DEP has completed ranking 90 project applications.
- Reduce Nutrient Content from Fertilizers: Nutrients in fertilizers wash into the Bay, causing excessive algae and weed growth. The DEP has been implementing legislation Governor Christie signed for the nation’s most restrictive lawn fertilizing standards. The first phase of the law, setting time frames and fertilizer application rates, is now in effect. DEP is working with Rutgers University and the fertilizer industry on a professional training and certification program, while industry seeks to reformulate the nitrogen content of its products.
- Require Post-Construction Soil Restoration: Soil compaction contributes to increased stormwater runoff and non-point pollution. These impacts can be mitigated through restoration of soil health and plantings after construction. A special subcommittee is proposing new soil health standards to the State Soil Conservation Committee next month, as required by Governor Christie’s new soil restoration law.
- Acquire Land in the Watershed: Open space protection helps reduce the impacts of development. Since implementation of the Governor’s Action Plan, the DEP’s Green Acres Program has acquired 1,500 acres in the Barnegat Bay watershed, including additions to Double Trouble State Park and Colliers Mill Wildlife Management Area. Green Acres provided grants to Ocean County to buy land near ecologically unique Forked River Mountains. Green Acres will continue to prioritize watershed acquisitions as an important tool to enhance water quality.
- Establish a Special Area Management Plan: Dialogue and planning coordination among stakeholders is essential for addressing land use issues in the highly-developed watershed. The DEP held a public interest meeting on March 17 and received National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approval for a five-year plan to develop strategies in a watershed study area. The DEP will conduct meetings to engage interested stakeholders and develop strategies.
- Adopt More Rigorous Water Quality Standards: The DEP this month launched a comprehensive water quality monitoring network in cooperation with many partners, including EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, N.J. Pinelands Commission and Ocean County Health Department. Stations strategically located in the Bay and tributaries will help researchers better understand water flow and how stormwater pollution and other factors contribute to degraded water quality. DEP has entered into a joint agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey for installation and maintenance of water flow gauging stations to help researchers better understand how slow water movement affects water quality.
- Educate the Public: Public understanding of how daily behaviors such as fertilizer use and littering affect the bay are critical to long-term success. The DEP has developed a Barnegat Bay web site, organized meetings with environmental educators in local school districts, developed public service announcements and printed educational handouts, and established a network of volunteers to work with the DEP after storms to track potential sources of pollution into the bay.
- Produce More Comprehensive Research: Over the years, extensive research has been conducted on the Bay, but it has never been fully coordinated. The DEP’s Office of Science is now working with the DEP’s Science Advisory Board, the EPA, state universities, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Barnegat Bay Partnership to develop and fund additional research to fill in the gaps and to get a more complete understanding of the issues the bay faces.
- Reduce Water Craft Impacts: Boats and personal water craft can damage submerged aquatic vegetation and disrupt sensitive aquatic habitats. The DEP has met with researchers to identify locations of environmentally sensitive areas and met with stakeholders to hear their views. The DEP will continue meetings to determine the best approach to designate and protect these areas.
“The Bay faces many challenges. Strong and committed partnerships will be extremely important in the coming years,” said DEP Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources Management John Plonski, who manages the Barnegat Bay restoration effort. “The Bay’s watershed is large and its problems are complex. Restoring Barnegat Bay will take time, more research, a great deal of effort and the tireless contributions of many people and groups.’’
For information on Barnegat Bay, the Governor’s 10-point plan, the new status report, and a ranking of stormwater projects, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/barnegatbay/