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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: 8/31/99
99/104
CONTACT: Peter Page or Loretta O'Donnell
609-292-3225 or 609-292-2994

DROUGHT NOT OVER YET WATER RESTRICTIONS REMAIN IN EFFECT

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Shinn, after reviewing all relevant surface and groundwater data, has decided not to lift restrictions on nonessential outdoor water use that have been in effect throughout New Jersey since August 5. While recent rainfall has eased the region's drought, reservoir levels, streamflows and ground water levels are still below just as the state is entering the driest months of the year, Shinn said.

"The Garden State is green again thanks to the storms of the last two weeks but the year long shortage in rainfall that began in July 1998 has not been substantially reduced," Shinn said. "Reservoir and ground water levels have not risen significantly and streamflows, in general, have returned to below normal levels."

"The recent rains fell fast and hard. The rapid runoff did very little to improve ground water levels, while the dry soil and thirsty vegetation absorbed most of the water that otherwise would have flowed into reservoirs," Shinn said. "The past 13 months have been the driest in 33 years. The rainfall deficit from July 1998 to July 1999 was 13 inches, the third largest deficit measured in New Jersey in 105 years. The fall and winter historically are dry months and reservoirs normally don't reach their lowest levels until early October. It is possible we are in just the first year of a multi-year drought. It is better to keep water use restrictions in place while we observe trends over the next several weeks," Shinn said.

Reservoir levels for the four major systems serving northeastern New Jersey currently have a combined average of 64.1 percent full, which is 10.2 percent below normal for this time of year. This is only a .8 percent increase over the lowest combined level of 63.3 percent recorded before the rain on Aug. 25. The normal combined reservoir level at this time is 74.3 percent full based on historic averages.

United Water Co.'s reported average reservoir level Monday was 65.1 percent full, compared to a normal of 70.9 percent. Newark Water Department was 71.4 percent with a normal of 74.0 percent. North Jersey District Water Supply Commission reported 62.3 percent, compared to a normal of 72.6 percent. Jersey City Water Department was at 59.3 percent with a normal of 84.2 percent. Reservoirs in the Delaware Basin in New York State were at 56.8 percent full Monday, compared to a normal of 75.2 percent.

In South Jersey, which doesn't have reservoirs, DEP is monitoring flows in the Delaware River and streams, many of which had record low flows prior to the recent rains.

"If Hurricane Dennis brings additional hard rain to the South Jersey shore, it could even result in some temporary back bay flooding at the South Jersey shore, but this does not mean that underlying aquifers are back to normal," Shinn said.

The department also is evaluating levels of shallow aquifers. Ground water is not as quickly replenished by rain as reservoirs and adequate levels must be maintained in some areas to protect again saltwater intrusion. Some areas also have received less rain than others, resulting in varying conditions. DEP will continue to evaluate the situation on a weekly basis.

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