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Water Monitoring & Standards

Surface Water Quality Standards

Ground Water Quality Standards

Water Quality Assessment
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SWQS and GWQS Rule Archives
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Surface Water Quality Standards

The Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS), N.J.A.C. 7:9B, establish designated uses, classify streams based on uses, designate antidegradation categories, and develop water quality criteria to protect those 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.

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 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 Categories

Antidegradation/Category One Fact Sheet

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, to ensure that the designated uses are adequately protected.


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 TMDL program is implemented by the Department's Division of Watershed Management.

The SWQS operate in conformance with the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1313(c)), commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Federal Water Quality Standards Regulation at 40 CFR 131. Under the 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 the State's regulations as N.J.A.C. 7:9B.

Surface Water Quality Standards Fact Sheet

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

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Modified: February 11, 2008

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