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Data Needed to Support Category One Upgrades

The new definitions of exceptional ecological significance, exceptional fisheries resource(s), and exceptional water supply significance (see recently adopted amendments to the SWQS rules) better define the qualifications necessary for waters to be considered for upgrade to Category One designation, as well as the data necessary to evaluate these qualifications.

Exceptional ecological significance

Qualifications:

  1. Suitable habitat and documented occurrence of specific, aquatic-dependant endangered and threatened species; or
  2. an exceptional aquatic community that is not impaired; and possesses at least two of the following four characteristics:

Data needs:

Endangered or Threatened Species. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon endangered or threatened (E&T) species, waters must have suitable habitat to support Bog Turtle and several freshwater mussels, including:  Brook Floater, Dwarf Wedgemussel, Eastern Pondmussel, Eastern Lampmussel, Green Floater, and/or Triangle Floater; as well as documented occurrence(s) of at least one of these species verified by the Department. For more information, see "Documentation for Endangered and Threatened Species for Category One Upgrade".

Exceptional Aquatic Community. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters must exhibit no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community as measured by the Department's Rapid Bioassessment Protocol. Using this biological assessment protocol, the results must indicate no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community.  A benthic macroinvertebrate community that is not impaired is characterized by a diverse macroinvertebrate population, balanced taxa groups (i.e., no taxa are overly dominant), and a good representation of pollution-intolerant taxa.  If the benthic macroinvertebrate results indicate an impaired condition, no further evaluation will be conducted and the waterbody will not qualify for Category One designation. For more information, see "Biological Assessment for Category One Upgrades".

Optimal habitat. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also contain optimal stream habitat as measured by the Department's Stream Habitat Assessment. An optimal habitat is identified by a variety of habitats within the stream, stable banks with little siltation or channelization, a variety of velocities and stream depths, a riparian zone covered by native vegetation where plants are allowed to grow naturally, and an unimpacted riparian zone. If the habitat assessment indicates a result less than optimal, then other ecological factors are necessary to support the Category One designation.

Excellent fish community. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also contain an excellent fish community as measured by the Fish Index of Biotic Integrity (FIBI).  The Department's Water Monitoring and Standards Program, in cooperation with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, developed the FIBI to evaluate the fish community, a good ecological indicator of the environmental health of a waterbody. FIBI is based upon a statistical evaluation of fish species observed at selected stream stations and measures the health of a stream based on multiple attributes of the resident fish assemblage. Fish assemblages generally include a range of species that represent a variety of trophic levels (omnivores, herbivores, insectivores, planktivores, piscivores). Fish tend to integrate effects of lower trophic levels; thus, fish assemblage structure is reflective of integrated environmental health. For more information, see "Biological Assessment for Category One Upgrades".

Surface water quality data. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also demonstrate compliance with aquatic life criteria pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.14(d) for dissolved oxygen, temperature, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids. These parameters are important to maintaining a healthy and balanced aquatic life and are readily monitored. Because of their importance, the Department has determined that the aquatic life criteria established in the New Jersey Surface Water Quality Standards must be met for all of these parameters to support upgrading candidate waters to Category One. For more information, see "Surface Water Quality Data for Category One Upgrades".

Impervious surface. Waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community that are located within a HUC 14 subwatershed with a very low percentage of impervious surface may also qualify as an exceptional aquatic community. Impervious surface must be two percent or less for HUC 14 subwatersheds with drainage areas less than five square miles. For HUC 14 subwatersheds with drainage areas greater than five square miles, the impervious surface must be 10 percent or less. Impervious surface data is available in the Department's latest land use/land cover data layer, which can be downloaded from the Department's GIS Web site. For more information, see "Impervious Surface Data for Category One Upgrades".

Exceptional water supply significance

Qualifications: Water supply systems that serve a population greater than 100,000; including any reservoirs and their natural tributaries.

Data needs: Information on water supply systems, including reservoirs and their tributaries, can be obtained from the Division of Water Supply.

Exceptional fisheries resource(s)

Qualifications:

  1. Waters classified as FW2(TP) and confirmed to support trout production; or
  2. Waters approved for unrestricted shellfish harvest.

Data needs:

Trout Production. To qualify as an exceptional fisheries resource, waters may be classified as FW2-Trout Production (FW2-TP) waters and confirmed by the Department to support trout production. Stream sampling (fish survey) data are used by the Department to determine whether FW2 waters should be classified to protect trout production (TP) or trout maintenance (TM) uses; or as nontrout (NT). FW2-Trout Production (FW2-TP) Waters are waters where trout can complete their life cycle, including reproduction, in a natural habitat. The Department has determined that streams classified as FW2-TP are exceptional fisheries resources and qualify as Category One designation. For more information, see "Trout Production Waters for Category One Upgrades".

Shellfish Harvesting. To qualify as an exceptional fisheries resource, waters may be classified as shellfish harvest waters. Shellfish harvest waters are waters approved by the Department for unrestricted shellfish harvest pursuant to the Shellfish Growing Water Classification rules at N.J.A.C. 7:12. Shellfish harvest classifications are based on water quality monitoring conducted by the Department's Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring. For more information about shellfish harvesting, see "Shellfish Harvest Waters for Category One Upgrades".

For more information about Category One waters, please contact the Bureau of Water Quality Standards and Assessment at (609) 777-1753.

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Department of Environmental Protection
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