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RELEASE: 12/22/00
CONTACT: Loretta O'Donnell or Amy Collings
609-984-1795 or 609-292-2994

DEP Posts Water Quality Inventory Report on Website

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today completed posting on its website the draft 2000 Water Quality Inventory Report, which provides the most comprehensive data to date on New Jersey's surface waters. The report shows that the state's water quality has been improving in many areas and more waters now comply with state and federal water quality standards.

The report provides detailed information on the following:

  • surface water quality status and trends
  • the attainment of designated uses specified in New Jersey's surface water quality standards
  • source and cause assessments
  • New Jersey's water pollution control program and major strategies to maintain and improve water quality
  • special state water quality concerns
  • recommendations

"Water quality in New Jersey, in general, is improving and we are working to achieve further progress, primarily from nonpoint sources of pollution, through contracts with each of the state's 20 watershed management areas. Land preservation also continues to be a major strategy of this administration for protecting water quality now and in the future," said DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn.

This is the most comprehensive Water Quality Inventory Report the state has done and provides a number of water quality assessments for the first time including drinking water, agricultural and industrial uses; lake bathing beaches; and aquatic life in coastal waters. The Department is continuing to enhance its capabilities to perform thorough water quality evaluations.

The bi-annual report, submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review, uses data collected from monitoring programs throughout the state between 1995-1999. After EPA comment and any following revisions, the final report also will be available on the web and in hard copy. The draft report website is (

Major findings of the report include:

Coastal waters - recreational use

Background: New Jersey's 179 ocean beaches and 138 bay beaches are closely monitored (5,000 to 6,000 samples per summer) for sanitary quality by local and State environmental health agencies. New Jersey has the most comprehensive program in the country for coastal recreational beach monitoring and public notification and was the model for the national beach monitoring legislation recently signed by the President. Monitoring and data assessment is coordinated by DEP and compared to New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services standards for primary contact.

Results: New Jersey's ocean and bay bathing beaches are safe for swimming. Based on most recent data (1999), New Jersey's beaches are 100% swimmable. DEP's coastal beach milestone (100% of the State's coastal recreational waters will be safe for swimming by 2005) has been attained.

Comparison: The attached chart shows the reduction in beach closures between 1990 and 2000. [Chart not available for the Web version of this news release.]

Coastal waters - aquatic life

Background: The assessment relied on dissolved oxygen levels.

Results: Ocean and estuary life are generally healthy. 91% of assessed coastal waters have sufficient oxygen concentrations to support aquatic life. 9% partially support aquatic life. Transient low dissolved oxygen in the ocean sometimes occurs in the summer, potentially affecting aquatic life while it occurs.

Comparison: Aquatic life designated uses in New Jersey estuaries and ocean waters were assessed for the first time in this report.

New Jersey has been a national leader in opening shellfish beds for harvest, with 88.9% currently harvestable.

Due to improvements in water quality, New Jersey has increased shellfish waters available for harvest each year for the past 13 years due to an improving trend in water quality and leads the nation in shellfish restoration acreage. New Jersey also leads the nation in the amount of shellfish harvested, with more than 75 million pounds harvested per year. DEP is implementing a Shellfish Action Plan to increase available shellfish beds to 90% by 2005. (see chart) [Chart not available for the Web version of this news release.]

Lakes - recreational use

Background: Data collected by county health departments and local lake managers were compiled and compared to New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services standards for primary contact for the Water Quality Inventory Report for first time.

Results: Of New Jersey's 367 recreational lake bathing beaches (located on 310 lakes), 74% fully support, 13% partially support, and 7% do not support swimming; 6% could not be assessed due to lack of sufficient data.

Comparison: Statewide information for lake bathing beaches is available for the first time in this report.

Lakes - aquatic life

Background: Aquatic life uses were assessed in lakes using data from the Clean Lakes Program (lake trophic status) and, for the first time, the Fish and Wildlife Program (fish population assessments). Most available data were more than five years old.

Results: Based on data from both programs, 98% of 18,360 lake acres assessed fully support aquatic life. This includes 30% that fully support aquatic life and 68% that fully support aquatic life but are threatened by eutrophication (excessive nutrient levels). Also, a new lakes assessment identified that 68% of lakes reviewed provide high quality fisheries. For example, Round Valley Reservoir is one of the premier lake trout fisheries in the country.

Causes: Eutrophic lakes are characterized by significant growth of aquatic plants and can experience depleted dissolved oxygen. Eutrophication is accelerated in many New Jersey lakes because they are shallow man-made impoundments impacted by nutrients and sediments from both point and nonpoint sources. Aquatic life may be negatively affected by low dissolved oxygen levels and temperature changes occurring in eutrophic lakes.

Rivers and streams - Surface Water Quality Standards

An evaluation of water chemistry in freshwater streams indicated the following results. The percent of monitoring stations meeting Surface Water Quality Standards for dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and total phosphorus has increased over the past 25 years (1974-1997). Most recent data are from 1995 to 1997.

  • For dissolved oxygen, necessary for most forms of aquatic life, most recent data indicate that 94% of monitored stations met standards. Dissolved oxygen levels have been increasing: the percent of monitored stations meeting standards increased from 85% in the 1975-1979 monitoring period to 94% in the 1995 to 1997 monitoring period (see attached chart). [Chart not available for the Web version of this news release.]

  • For ammonia, which can be toxic to aquatic life, most recent data indicate that 100% of monitored stations met standards. This is consistent with reductions in ammonia in sewage effluent.

  • For nitrate, which can be a concern in finished drinking water, most recent data indicate that 99% of monitored stations met standards. Nitrate in finished drinking water consistently met drinking water standards between 1995 and 1998. However, nitrate in surface water used for water supplies was identified as an emerging issue.

  • For phosphorus, which can contribute to eutrophication, most recent data indicate that 38% of monitored stations met standards. Between 1986 and 1995, 50% of stations had decreasing trends, and only one monitoring station had an increasing trend. Levels are still higher than desired in some streams, however. Additional efforts are underway to determine whether and where eutrophication is occurring. Reduction measures will be implemented through watershed management.

Rivers and streams - recreational use

Background: Assessment is based on monitoring at 75 stations between 1995 and 1997 for bacteria levels. These data do not evaluate risks to human health from swimming in rivers and streams because monitoring stations are not necessarily located where swimming and secondary contact occur.

Results: Of 75 monitored stations, 21% fully support, 15% partially support, and 63% do not support swimming. Many of the State's urban rivers cannot support swimming uses because of elevated bacteria levels. Comparison: There has been little change since 1986 in these numbers.

Causes: Fecal coliform pollution causes non-attainment of recreational designated uses in rivers and streams and is suspected to occur primarily from domestic pets, livestock and wild animal wastes transported to waters by stormwater, overland water, and direct contact with water.

Rivers and streams - aquatic life

Background: Assessment is based on monitoring of bottom-dwelling insects, which indicate the overall health of aquatic communities. Monitoring occurs at over 800 locations statewide on a five-year rotating schedule. Round 1 sampling was completed between 1992 and 1996. Round 2 sampling is now ongoing and this report includes the Upper Delaware region.

Results: Most recent monitoring in the Upper Delaware region (1997-1998) indicates that of the 139 stations, 58% fully support (non-impaired), 41% partially support (moderately impaired), and 1% does not support aquatic life (severely impaired).

Comparison: Monitoring results in the same region between 1992 and 1993 indicate that 67% of monitored stations fully supported, 28% partially supported, and 5 % did not support aquatic life.

Causes: Impairments are thought to be caused in part by degraded stream habitat quality as caused, for example, by erosion, stormwater flow, or low flow conditions.

Fish caught in New Jersey waters can be eaten, with some restrictions in certain areas for certain species.

Important commercial and recreational species can safety be eaten by everyone including: summer and winter flounder, weakfish, perch, carp. More than 173 million pounds of finfish valued at $95 million were commercially harvested in New Jersey waters in 1995.

Preliminary data indicate that levels of PCBs in certain fish species are declining (1981-1997 data). Monitoring to evaluate current concentrations is ongoing and fish consumption advisories for specific species and areas will be adjusted as appropriate to reflect new findings. New Jersey also is working with other states to limit releases of mercury and other pollutants from regional air emission sources. Many fish issue impairments were largely attributed to historical pollution and nonpoint water pollution sources, including air deposition.

Management approaches to maintain and improve water quality

Through watershed management, specific sources of pollution in affected watersheds will be identified and managed. DEP is conducting studies to identify factors that contribute to impairments and will continue to implement projects to address these impairments. Partnership groups for each of the state's 20 watershed management areas have agreed to begin developing plans for their specific locations. The proposed Water Quality and Watershed Management Rules are designed to restore and maintain water quality and ecosystem health.

Programs to control nonpoint sources include DEP's Municipal Stormwater Planning and Management program to reduce impacts from stormwater runoff. The New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust also is funding nonpoint source projects, such as the restoration of Colonial Lake in Mercer County.

Compliance with permit limits at industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants is very high. There has been a decreasing trend in the number of treatment plants in significant noncompliance.

Other major water quality strategies include:

  • Land acquisition by various entities and from a variety of funding sources

  • Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP) - land conservation program provides for agricultural buffers

  • $1.3 million per year focuses on agricultural best management practices - initiated in 1998

  • Freshwater wetlands rule proposal - includes wetlands buffers

  • Wetlands regulation and enforcement - one of the strictest programs in the nation

  • Surface Water Quality Standards proposal - improved anti-degradation strategy

  • Action Plans for shellfish and beaches

  • DEP National Environmental Performance Partnership System (NEPPS) and Strategic Plan

  • Additional funding for water assessment in the next fiscal year


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