navigation bar
new jersey department of environmental protection  
Water Monitoring & Standards

Surface Water Quality Standards

Ground Water Quality Standards

Water Quality Assessment
Local, Regional, and Volunteer Monitoring
GIS Coverages
SWQS and GWQS Rule Archives
Technical Support and Related Documents
Email (Listserv Subscriptions

Surface Water Quality Standards

The Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS), N.J.A.C. 7:9B, establish the designated uses and antidegradation categories of the State's surface waters, classify surface waters based on those uses (i.e., stream classifications), and specify the water quality criteria and other policies and provisions necessary to attain those designated uses. Designated uses include drinking water supply, fish consumption, shellfish resources, propagation of fish and wildlife, recreation, and agricultural and industrial water supplies. In addition, the SWQS specify general, technical, and interstate policies, and policies pertaining to the establishment of water quality-based effluent limitations.

Surface Water Quality Standards Fact Sheet

Under the SWQS, all existing and designated uses shall be maintained and protected for all surface waters of the State. Surface water quality that is better than the applicable criteria must also be maintained and protected. These antidegradation protections apply to all surface waters of the State. Surface waters of the State include rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, estuaries, and near shore coastal waters.

Antidegradation/Category One Fact Sheet

The following topics related to the SWQS are explained in more detail below:

Stream Classifications

Surface waters are classified based on the type of waterbody and the designated use of the waterbody. New Jersey has both fresh and saline waters. Freshwaters are classified as FW1 (not subject to any man-made wastewater discharges) and FW2 waters (all other freshwaters except Pinelands waters). Freshwaters are further classified based on trout status, trout production (FW2-TP), trout maintenance (FW2-TM), and nontrout (FW2-NT). Saline waters are classified as saline estuarine (SE) and saline coastal (SC). SE waters are further classified into SE1, SE2, and SE3 based on their designated uses. Waters within Pinelands Protection and Preservation areas (which may be either freshwater or saline) are classified as Pinelands waters (PL).

Antidegradation Categories

While the SWQS protect water quality for all surface waters of the State, the degree of protection varies depending on the antidegradation designation of the water resource, as summarized below:

Outstanding National Resource Waters: The highest level of protection afforded to surface waters under the SWQS is applied to Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW), which includes surface waters classified as freshwater 1 (FW1) waters and Pinelands (PL) waters.

FW1 waters: Also known as nondegradation waters, are set aside for posterity because of their unique ecological significance, exceptional recreational significance, or exceptional water supply significance. Nondegradation waters are not be subject to any manmade wastewater discharges. Activities that might alter existing water quality in FW1 waters are prohibited.

PL waters: Are maintained in their natural state and changes are allowed only toward natural water quality.

Category One Waters: Category One waters are protected from any measurable change in water quality because of their exceptional ecological significance, exceptional recreational significance, exceptional water supply significance, or exceptional fisheries resources.

Category Two Waters: All surface waters except those designated as ONRW or Category One waters are Category Two waters. As with Category One waters, Category Two waters are protected from any measurable change in existing water quality; however, some lowering of existing water quality may be allowed by the Department based on a social or economic justification.

GIS Coverage

The Department has developed a digital representation of the stream classifications and antidegradation designations established under the SWQS. This digital representation is now a publicly available data layer on the Department's Geographic Information System (GIS). Updates to these current stream classification map and the corresponding GIS coverage are expected to be made periodically. The maps and the GIS coverage are provided for informational purposes only and are not legally binding. When interpreting the SWQS, the written standards found in the most recently adopted SWQS rules (N.J.A.C. 7:9B) always take precedence.

Surface Water Quality Criteria

The surface water quality criteria established for each of the different stream classifications in the SWQS are numerical estimates of constituent concentrations, including toxic pollutants, that are protective of the designated uses of the surface waters of the State. Narrative criteria describe instream conditions to be attained/maintained or avoided. The SWQS also contain technical and general policies, including antidegradation policies and nutrient policies, to ensure that the designated uses are adequately protected.

The Department has recently developed a Nutrient Criteria Enhancement Plan, required under USEPA's National Nutrient Policy . This document explains the Department's approach to developing and enhancing the existing SWQS nutrient criteria and policies to protect designated uses of all New Jersey's surface waters, including saline waters (estuarine and marine). Nutrient criteria development requires an understanding of the causal relationships between nutrient over-enrichment, various response variables, and documented impacts on attainment of designated and existing uses of New Jersey waters. This Plan outlines the steps to support nutrient criteria development, including monitoring and data collection; research of causal relationships; selection of appropriate indicators of use impairment;development of new assessment methodologies;development of new/enhanced criteria; and promulgation of the new criteria through amendments to the SWQS.


The SWQS are used to develop regulatory requirements for other Department programs that will serve to protect the existing and designated uses of the State's surface waters. These programs include the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) program, Site Remediation Program, and various programs implemented by the Division of Land Use Regulation. The SWQS also form the basis for the Department's Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, which is developed and submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency every two years pursuant to Sections 303(d) and 305(b) of the CWA. The Integrated Report assesses use attainment for all waterbodies of the State, as well as the degree of use impairment, if any. Waterbodies that are impaired due to an exceedance of the SWQS require the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), which represent the assimilative capacity of surface water for a given parameter of concern.

The SWQS operate in conformance with the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1313(c)), commonly known as the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Federal Water Quality Standards Regulation at 40 CFR 131. Under the state statutory authority granted by N.J.S.A. 13:1D-1 seq., 58:10A-1 et seq., and 58:11A-1 et seq., the SWQS are codified in New Jersey's regulations as N.J.A.C. 7:9B. Proposed and adopted amendments to the SWQS rules from 2002 through the present, and their corresponding basis and background documents, are available on the Rules Archives Web page.

Compendium of Standards

The Department has developed an electronic compendium of standards for water and soil promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Included are Surface Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9B; Ground Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9C; Drinking Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:10; and soil remediation standards from the Remediation Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:26D. The compendium includes the standards and information about the basis for the standards contained in the above referenced rules. The standards in these rules are used by the Department's regulatory programs to establish site-specific requirements in accordance with the appropriate regulations. Please refer to the official versions of these rules for the most accurate information about the standards currently in effect and how they are administered by the Department. Information on obtaining the official versions of Department rules is available on the Department's Web site at


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

Get free Adobe Acrobat pdf reader

*  The Adobe Acrobat PDF documents require a free PDF Reader from Adobe. We recommend using a current copy of the Reader to avoid compatibility problems. Also, there may be a time lag before a Web browser displays a PDF document's contents. This particularly happens with large documents.

bottom footer

  wms home | bwqsa home

department: njdep home | about dep | index by topic | programs/units | dep online
statewide: njhome | citizen | business | government | services A to Z | departments | search

Copyright © State of New Jersey, 1996-2009
Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: January 18, 2011

nj home citizen business government services a to z departments dep home njdep homeabout depindex by topicprograms and unitsdep online contact dep privacy notice legal statement accessibility statement nj home