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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection-Water Quality Management Planning
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Water Quality
Management Planning

photoWastewater Management Plans (WMPs) are an integral component of areawide Water Quality Management Plans.  The Department relies on the WMP components of the areawide Water Quality Management Plans to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the cumulative effects of existing and future land use on the water resources of the State and to ensure that the Water Quality Management Plans integrate related Federal, State, regional and local comprehensive, functional and other relevant land use planning activities through a continuing planning process. 

The intended purpose of the WMPs is to project future development, estimate the wastewater management needs associated with that development, and specify the preferred wastewater treatment alternative for all areas of the State.  These plans also provide the vehicle to ensure that sewer service is not extended into environmentally sensitive areas.  WMPs also identify public water supply service areas of water purveyors and identify the water supply needs associated with proposed development.  Lastly, because WMPs project future land use and shape the pattern and density of development through the wastewater management alternatives selected within given areas, these plans are instrumental in quantifying existing and future nonpoint source pollution loads and in implementing best management practices to reduce those pollutant loads. 

WQM plans must be updated periodically by WMPs in order to reflect and respond to changes in municipal zoning, State and regional planning activities and regulatory standards, and to ensure that the most up to date information is fully incorporated into decisions concerning wastewater management choices.  To accomplish these continuing planning process objectives, WMPs are not static and are required to be updated every six years.

The Department readopted the Water Quality Management Planning rules on May 20, 2008, with the rule readoption effective May 21, 2008 and adopted rule amendments, repeals and new rules effective July 7, 2008 (see 40 N.J.R. 4000(a)).  The rule amendments and new rules provide the following:

  • Reassign wastewater management planning responsibility to the county boards of chosen freeholders and requires them to update WMPs;
  • Establish clear standards for delineating appropriate sewer service areas to protect environmentally sensitive areas as well as clear, environmentally protective standards for the review of WQM plan amendments;
  • Set forth clear standards to require identification of adequate wastewater management alternatives, address water supply, and control nonpoint source pollution (including controls related to stormwater, riparian zones and steep slopes);
  • Require updated WMPs to address septic density in a manner that demonstrates compliance with a 2 mg/L (ppm) nitrate planning target on a HUC 11 watershed basis or as required by development type and location.
  • Makes provisions to allow the withdrawal of sewer service areas and re-designate these areas as general wastewater service area of 2,000 gallons per day or less and less than six residential units (restricted septic service areas) where the applicable WMP is not in compliance with the mandatory update schedule contained in the rules;
  • Require municipalities to develop a septic system inventory and tracking system through an ordinance or other means which will ensure that septic systems are functioning properly through a mandatory maintenance program;

Water quality is dependent upon factors of topography, hydrology, population concentration, industrial and commercial development, and other land uses.  Selected wastewater management alternatives affect land use development patterns by determining the type and amount of development that can be supported in an area and thereby also influence the pressure to develop those same areas.  The Water Quality Management Planning rules guide wastewater management alternatives based on the environmental protection objectives of the Department including the protection of threatened and endangered wildlife species habitat, Natural Heritage Priority Sites, Category One waters, and wetlands, and requires that wastewater management alternatives identified for build-out condition are consistent with water quality and quantity constraints.  The rules also improve consistency between wastewater management decisions and the Coastal Zone Management Program, Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, and the Highlands Regional Master Plan.  The extension of centralized wastewater infrastructure into these sensitive natural areas would encourage and subsidize a pattern of development that is incompatible with the mandate of the Department to protect these resources.  Thus, the rules make clear that future sewer service areas are to exclude these resources.

Additionally, the rules now require a consideration of the cumulative impact on ground water quality that would result from the density of individual wastewater discharges to ground water by demonstration of compliance with the Groundwater Quality Standard of 2 mg/L (ppm) nitrate planning target on a HUC 11 watershed basis.  These considerations will not only limit the degradation of ground water but will also assist in the protection of natural resources and surface water quality from nonpoint source impacts by limiting the density of development.  The rules also include strict limitations on the disturbance of riparian zones and steep slopes and reinforce the Department’s stormwater management requirements as required to protect water quality from nonpoint sources of pollution.  Ultimately the WMPs help determine where wastewater infrastructure investments should occur to promote efficient and sustainable development.

The Water Quality Management Planning rules required the transition of wastewater management planning responsibility from 161 wastewater management planning agencies to New Jersey’s 21 counties.  Four counties have refused wastewater management planning responsibility:  Bergen, Passaic, Union, and Warren counties.  Where a county refused wastewater management planning responsibility, a municipality may apply for a voluntary assignment.  Most municipalities in Bergen and Union Counties are currently covered by WMPs submitted by a regional utilities authority under the prior rules.  The progress of other counties toward completion of their WMP can be tracked by clicking here.

If a county or municipality fails to submit an updated WMP as required by the rule, the Department has the authority to withdraw all future sewer service areas identified in the areawide Water Quality Management Plan where sewer service has not yet been provided, until a new WMP is submitted and adopted. 

A WMP is valid only upon its adoption by the Governor or / her designee as a Water Quality Management Plan amendment; therefore, a WMP must be submitted to the Department along with a written plan amendment application.  Agencies required to be notified of the preparation of the WMP will generally endorse the WMP during the amendment process.

However, during the preparation of a WMP, every wastewater management planning agency must notify, seek comments from and offer to confer with all government units that have regulatory or planning jurisdiction over wastewater, water supply, or land use in the wastewater management plan area or any areas identified as future sewer service area and all government units and public utilities or vendors that own, lease, operate, or maintain wastewater treatment works or have contracts or Department permits for sewerage facilities identified in the WMP (other than facilities for their own buildings).

Water Quality Management Plan amendments may only be proposed and processed by the Department where an up to date WMP has been adopted, except in limited instances where a project or activity is either proposed, constructed, operated or conducted by the State or Federal government; is regulated by the Solid Waste Management Act, N.J.S.A. 13:1E-1 et seq.; or where the WMP agency has submitted at least that portion of a WMP designating sewer service area that complies with the Department’s regulatory criteria, consistent with P.L. 2011, c.203.  Water Quality Management Plan revisions may be posed to correct or clarify erroneous information contained in any WQM plans, regardless of WMP status.  However, other Water Quality Management Plan revisions may require an up to date WMP, depending on the scope of the proposal.  Revisions may be processed for substantive changes of limited scope that do not result in significant environmental impacts, such as transfers of existing sewer service areas from one wastewater treatment facility to another via mutual agreement and expansions of sewer service areas below certain thresholds; or to address certain specified more substantive changes to WQM plans provided that they comply with the environmental standards, do not conflict with regional environmental plans, and no significant individual or cumulative impacts will occur to environmentally sensitive areas or other natural resources. (See N.J.A.C. 7:15-3.5(b)4 for a complete list of revision categories and whether or not an up to date WMP is required.)

The Federal Clean Water Act, State Water Quality Planning Act, Water Pollution Control Act, and the Water Quality Management Planning rule require that permits and approvals not be in conflict with the Water Quality Management Plans.  The Department conducts the “Consistency Determination” review to determine whether or not a project or activity conflicts with the Statewide and areawide WQM Plans.  A permit or approval cannot be issued for a project that is not in compliance with the WQM Plans.  If a proposal is found to be “Inconsistent” the applicant can modify the proposal to become “Consistent” or propose to modify the WQM Plan through the Amendment and Revision processes to become “Consistent.” 

For additional information on Water Quality Management Planning or the WMP process in general, please contact us.

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Last Updated: February 6, 2015