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Watershed
Restoration
 
THE CLEAN WATER BOOK:
CHOICES FOR WATERSHED PROTECTION
     
CHAPTER 1:
INTRODUCTION
 

After its creation in 1970, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection concentrated most of the state's water resource protection efforts on sewage treatment plants, industrial discharges and other major "point" sources of pollution. However, as these sources of pollution have been reduced, it has become clear that one of New Jersey's largest pollution problems is people. It is us -- you and me!

We live in the most densely populated state in the nation, with over 8.6 million residents. The vast influx of visitors to our resort areas and the impacts of their activities in these areas and along the transportation corridors contributes greatly to the amount of pollution we see in our state. This resulting contamination of our lakes, streams, and groundwater is called "nonpoint source" pollution or "NPS" because it comes from many diffuse or scattered sources and activities in our daily lives, rather than a concentrated "point" source, such as a factory's pipe. The litter in the street is one type of NPS because it comes from many different people and many different places.

Other sources and activities that create NPS include fertilizing lawns and farm fields, driving and maintaining our cars, constructing buildings and roads, plowing our fields for crops, and deicing our roads in the winter. Consequently, NPS is sometimes called "people pollution" or "pointless pollution."

As New Jersey entered the 21st century, nearly 60 percent of New Jersey's current water pollution can be attributed to contaminated or poorly managed stormwater runoff. In 2004, New Jersey adopted new regulations to improve the ways in which we manage stormwater runoff. Changing the pathways by which runoff reaches our streams and lakes is one way we can minimize the amount of nonpoint source pollutants carried there. Another is to reduce our use of potential NPS pollutants and prevent them from contact with stormwater.

When water from rainfall or melting snow flows across the landscape, it is called "stormwater runoff." As this stormwater runs over the land, and into storm sewers, it washes soil particles, bacteria, pesticides, fertilizer, pet waste, oil and other toxic materials into our lakes, streams and groundwater. As this water flushes this nonpoint source pollution away it becomes known as "polluted stormwater runoff."

Integrated into our lifestyles are many activities that can produce nonpoint source pollution. Because we are part of the problem, we are also part of the solution. By adjusting our lifestyles to reduce nonpoint source pollution, we can make a tremendous difference in the quality of the state's water resources.

How does all that curbside debris find its way to the local creek or lake?
When it rains, stormwater carries debris along the roadway to a nearby storm drain. The stormwater not only carries debris such as litter, but also less visible pollutants such as oil and antifreeze from cars, pesticides from lawns and even metals from brake linings.

The storm drain leads to a system of stormwater collection pipes that lie beneath the streets. These underground pipes carry the stormwater directly into waterways.

The best way to avoid contaminating local waterways is pollution prevention. By preventing pollution sources from coming in contact with stormwater, the stormwater remains clean and does not cause water quality problems when it enters the waterway.

By making small changes in our lifestyles, we can help prevent pollution of stormwater. This booklet contains numerous suggestions that you can take to help reduce nonpoint source pollution and better manage the stormwater runoff that carries pollutants into our waterways.

 

NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION BASICS

While a major portion of nonpoint source pollution in New Jersey comes directly from everyday individual activities, there are some other sources. These can be categorized as:

Agriculture
Pollutants that may come from agriculture include: sediments from eroded cropland and overgrazed pasture, excess fertilizers and pesticides applied to crops and minimal waste from confined animal facilities.

Hydromodification
Engineering projects, such as stream channelization and dam construction, change patterns of water flow. When such changes occur, there is often an increase in sediment deposits as well as an adverse impact on aquatic life due to habitat changes.

Construction
New building and highway construction produces sediment and possibly toxic materials. The clearing and removal of all vegetation from a construction site leaves the soil extremely susceptible to erosion. One rainstorm can result in tons of sediments being washed from each acre of newly cleared land into the nearest waterway. While pollutant loadings from construction sites are generally localized and of limited duration, such events can have severe short-term impacts. Large amounts of sediment may degrade water quality and permanently alter wildlife and fish habitats.

Between 1995 and 2000, construction activities associated with new development cleared an average of over 50 acres of vegetation per day in New Jersey. During dry weather, windstorms can transport soil particulates, trash and other materials into nearby water bodies.

 

THE DIVERSITY OF NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION

Nonpoint source pollution comes from a wide variety of sources and includes a diverse set of pollutants.
Here are a few examples:

  • malfunctioning septic systems
  • soil erosion from construction sites and farm fields
  • discharges of sewage and garbage from boats
  • cleansers, paint and antifouling compounds used on boats
  • hazardous household waste improperly stored or discarded
  • acid rain
  • oil leaking from home heating storage tanks
  • pollution from road deicing activities
  • improper disposal of wastes in catch basins or storm drains
  • leaking sewerage lines
  • pesticides and fertilizers misused in gardens
  • motor oil and grease drippings from cars and trucks
  • animal waste from pets and livestock
  • litter carelessly tossed aside

Nonpoint source pollutants can be classified into several categories:

Nutrients
All plants require nutrients in order to grow and reproduce. The three most common and important nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When an oversupply of these nutrients are present in streams, lakes and estuaries, algae and aquatic weeds will grow to the point that they will compete for oxygen and space in the water. Excessive growth of vegetation in lakes can eventually prevent recreational use for fishing and swimming. Such conditions in our lakes are typically the result of nutrients from failing septic systems or fertilizers from lawns and farms that are carried into the lake by stormwater runoff.

Sediments
Sediments are soil particles carried by rainwater into streams, lakes and estuaries, where they are eventually deposited. They can accumulate and fill in stream channels, which contributes significantly to flooding. While soil particles are suspended in the water, they can clog the gills of fish and have other negative effects on aquatic life.

Suspended sediments reduce the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants, thus adversely affecting photosynthesis. Wherever they are deposited, they alter the natural bottom of the waterway. In addition, the soil particles can carry chemical pollutants and excess nutrients with them into the water.

Toxins
Toxins are chemical substances that can cause harmful health effects, including cancers, and even death. Their impact on health may be acute, occurring quickly after exposure, or chronic, occurring over a long period of time. Toxins include certain metals (e.g. lead, mercury, cadmium), pesticides and other organic chemicals such as formaldehyde. Pesticides refer to all substances used to destroy unwanted vegetation, insects or other animals. The presence of toxins in water may render it unusable for fishing or swimming. It also makes it more difficult and costly to treat such water before it can be safely used for drinking.

Pathogens
Disease-causing microorganisms, or pathogens, are often present in human or animal fecal matter. Diseases that can result from exposure to fecal matter include dysentery, hepatitis, gastroenteritis (food poisoning), and parasitic infections. In New Jersey, the presence of pathogens beyond levels deemed safe results in closure of bathing beaches, condemnation of waters for shellfish harvesting and restrictions on drinking water supplies.

Biological Oxygen Demand
Oxygen is a natural component in all bodies of water, and it is needed by all aquatic plant and animal life. It is needed by microorganisms that play an important role in cleansing polluted streams by breaking down complex organic pollutants into simple and harmless chemicals. However, the more polluted a stream, the more the microorganisms and other aquatic life have to compete for the oxygen dissolved in the water. Thus, high levels of pollution cause high levels of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and may cause such dramatic results as fish kills.

Acidity
Runoff from soils with a high acid content and acid rain can increase the acidity of streams and lakes. This can adversely affect aquatic life. Many of New Jersey's bodies of water are naturally acidic because of the particular make-up of New Jersey's soil and vegetation. However, further increases can disrupt natural biochemical processes in stream life.

Physical Habitat Alteration
Activities such as construction, dredging, channeling and filling in of streams and wetlands can have a serious impact on aquatic life. When wetlands are destroyed, their ability to filter pollutants, nutrients and sediments is eliminated. When the sediment in the streambed is removed or disturbed, the large populations of microorganisms that help the stream to cleanse itself may be sharply reduced or eliminated.

Other aquatic life is also usually disrupted by habitat changes and may disappear at least for a period of time. As development occurs at a rapid rate throughout New Jersey, more and more stream habitats are being destroyed, temporarily or permanently.

 

NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION IMPACTS

What is the overall impact of NPS in New Jersey? The collective impact of NPS threatens aquatic and marine life, the fishing industry, recreational water activities, tourism and our drinking water. It is difficult to quantify because there are so many types of sources because it varies with the extent and intensity of rainfall and the seasonal nature of many sources.

According to the State of New Jersey Source Report for 2004-2006 prepared by NJDEP:

  • Between 40 and 70 percent of pollutant loads in the state's waterways are from NPS.
  • Of 282 Total Maximum Daily Loads established between 2000 and 2005, 279 were for impairments where NPS was the predominant problem. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant a water body can receive and still meet water quality standard. Part of the calculation is assessing the pollutant sources for the impaired water body.
  • 49 stream segments have been removed from the impaired water body list due to water quality improvement. The pollutant of concern was primarily NPS in nature.
  • Implementation of NPS restoration projects are estimated to have removed 66.1 tons per year of sediment, 455.1 pounds per year of nitrogen and 85.3 pounds per year of phosphorus.

According to NJDEP's Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program Summary Report for 2005 and 2006:

  • Seasonal monitoring of swimming beaches indicates that NPS has been the cause of the majority of beach closings in New Jersey in the past 2 years.

According to the 2006 New Jersey Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report:

  • Of the 586 water bodies that were assessed as not supporting general aquatic life, nonpoint source pollution from urban runoff and agriculture land uses was the most predominant potential cause.
  • Of the 554 water bodies assessed as not swimmable due to high bacteria levels, nonpoint source pollution from wildlife, livestock and pet waste is suspected as the primary cause. Failing septic systems and illicit connection between septic and stormwater systems also contribute to the high bacteria levels.
  • Of potential 680,000 acres of shellfish harvesting areas, the percentage that supports harvesting has steadily increased from 74% in 1978 to 89% in 2003. Many of these remaining closures are due to NPS from urban runoff, marinas, wildlife and pet waste, agricultural runoff and failing septic systems.
 

NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION SOLUTIONS

WAs the state's population approaches 9 million people, we must confront the problem of NPS squarely. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, with over 1,100 people per square mile.

We can choose to be a true "Garden State," a model of developed land uses that are in full harmony with our environment. We can protect our water supplies so that they will afford our children and us plentiful fishing, safe bathing and quality drinking water. Or we can permit our streams, lakes, estuaries and aquifers to be polluted by some of our everyday activities that disrupt our ecosystem.

Innovative legislation, active enforcement and cooperation among all levels of government will have to be part of New Jersey's creative solution to the challenge of nonpoint source pollution.

But the key is always you, the individual citizen, and your own commitment to seeing a healthy environment in New Jersey for your family and future generations. Ultimately, reduction and control of pollution from nonpoint sources will require the voluntary cooperation of individual citizens in making the choices described in this booklet.

Water is a shared blessing and resource. It is also a shared responsibility. It is not an overstatement to say that the key to a healthy environment is in your hands!

 
continue to Chapter 2: Water, Watersheds and Aquifers
back to The Clean Water Book Table of Contents

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Last Updated: June 8, 2012