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Sierra Club Statement on Passaic River Flooding

Date : Wed, 26 May 2010 16:41:08 -0400

___________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release
May 26, 2010 Contact: Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Sierra Club Statement on Passaic River Flooding

Montclair - Today the Passaic River Flood Advisory Commission will hold its first meeting in a public session at Montclair State University. The Sierra Club believes New Jersey has not adequately addressed the issue of flooding and the protection of important water resources in our state. As a result, certain areas flood every time the state sees heavy rains, especially parts of the Passaic River.

"Nature may bring the rains, but overdevelopment and bad government policies make the floods worse," said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club Director.

Man-made structures and flood control projects have not been successful in addressing the problem. New Jersey wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on ineffective flood control measures when it is much cheaper, safer, and better for the environment to simply remove people from harm's way. The Sierra Club believes New Jersey must look at a range of ways to deal with the problem of flooding. Unfortunately the state hasn't, and the problem of flooding in New Jersey has gotten worse.

One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the protection of headwater areas that help prevent downstream flooding. The Christie Administration's Red Tape task force, as well as its transition teams, have categorically stated they want to eliminate protection in the highlands region regarding headwaters of the Passaic River.

"If the state weakens protections in the highlands and allows overdevelopment there, the people along the Passaic river will need snorkels," Tittel said.

Towns are failing to implement stormwater rules. That leads to additional flooding. There are moves by the Christine Administration and the Legislature to say that New Jersey should have standards stricter than those of the federal government. This move would eliminate stream buffers and stormwater regulations as well as the zero net fill policy. All of this will lead to more flooding.

What the state needs to do is develop a holistic approach to the river basin that includes buyouts of flood prone homes, removal of fill, restoration of wetlands and riparian systems, and better managing of stormwaters. Secondary and cumulative impacts need to be examined. There is a whole list of things that must be done.

Instead of costly and ineffective flood control projects, the Sierra Club makes the following recommendations on how best to deal with flooding:

* Eliminate the Loophole for Redevelopment Currently, redevelopment projects are exempt from New Jersey's storm water and flood hazard rules. As New Jersey is redeveloped, the state must not miss its one chance to fix the problems of the past. Flooding will continue to get worse unless this loophole is eliminated, stormwater systems are retrofitted and impervious cover is limited on these sites.

* Update Maps of Flood Hazard Areas Many of the maps are thirty years old and some parts of the state do not have maps. Many more people are living in flood prone areas because these maps are so out of date. Without knowledge of where these areas are, more development is being allowed which puts more people in harm's way. The new maps should take into consideration increased flooding and sea level rise due to global warming.

* Eliminate Loopholes that Destroy Headwaters of Sensitive Streams Most prevalent is the loophole where the state does not have jurisdiction to protect stream drainages smaller than 50 acres. However, it is just these drainage areas that are the most sensitive and crucial to protecting water quality. Once the high quality waters at the headwaters are lost, the rest of the stream suffers.

* Expand Funding for Blue Acres This would be state funding, similar to Green Acres, to acquire properties, remove structures, and restore flood plains to their natural state. This is a critical program that would help residents who want to relocate out of flood plains.

* Incorporate Hazard Planning The state has to incorporate hazard planning into all agencies of government. The concept of hazard planning is such that the state should not spend resources or promote growth in areas that are subject to chronic flooding.

* Develop Impervious Cover Limits In order to address the chronic flooding that has occurred in New Jersey, the state needs to develop impervious cover limits in flood-prone watersheds. Impervious cover includes buildings, pavement, and lawns, which do not absorb storm water.

* Limit Development in Flood Plains Building in flood plains creates more flooding and puts more people's lives and properties at risk. The increase in impervious cover eliminates recharge areas and therefore stricter limits on new development in flood plains should be immediately imposed. There should be zero net fill and no new structures in flood plains.

* Implement Stricter Protections for Natural Stream Corridor Vegetation These vegetative corridors perform important functions by filtering pollution before it reaches the stream and preventing flooding by absorbing more waters. The current practice of mowing the corridor allows runoff to rush into the waters carrying pollutants from roads and fields and increases downstream flooding.

* Implement Category One Anti-degradation Requirements These requirements should be incorporated into the new rules. The same regulations for crossing streams and allowing for new development should not apply to the state's most sensitive environmental areas where stronger standards are warranted. The outstanding basin water designation should be strengthened to be the equivalent of Category One protection waters in New Jersey and then adopted for the Delaware River basin above Trenton and its tributaries.

* Flood Mitigation Develop basin-wide flood mitigation. Plan to help lessen the impact of flooding on already existing developed neighborhoods. Develop non-structural mechanisms to help diminish the impact of flooding on these communities.

* Water Management The state needs to better manage our water resources in the region, especially reservoirs, to mitigate flooding, help prevent drought, and maintain the ecological integrity of the river. The state needs to ensure that there is capacity in our reservoirs to help deal with flooding, but enough water to mitigate drought, and prevent the salt water line on the Delaware River from moving up.

* Regional Planning Water cannot be managed without land management. The state needs to do a better job of preventing development from creating more floods. Currently there is no regional planning entity for the Delaware River Basin. The Sierra Club believes the Delaware River Basin Commission should have land use powers. The Sierra Club also believes that the four-state region along the basin needs to develop strong regional planning to help prevent overdevelopment from causing more flooding.

* Restoration of Flood Plains, Wetlands and Riparian Areas We need to create areas to store flood waters to help protect homes and property along the basin. The best way to do it is by restoring the natural systems that we have allowed to be paved over.

* Retrofit Existing Development Existing development areas need to be retrofitted for stormwater management. Many older communities do not have proper stormwater facilities that adequately address flooding and water quality. Local and regional plans need to be developed to deal with it, but programs also need to be developed to implement it. Stormwater utilities could be used as they are in Florida. In addition, density bonuses could be given to developers to build upward, pushing back impervious cover in flood prone areas when they're redeveloping.

"The cycle of floods on the Passaic River has to be broken. This can only be done through a multi-faceted approach which combines the preservation of upstream forests with removing people from harm's way, and the development a comprehensive management plan for the problems of the river," Tittel said.


Christine Guhl Program Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618 Tel: (609) 656-7612 Fax: (609) 656-7618

Received on 2010-05-26 13:41:08

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at

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