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Wanaque Reservoir Under Dirty Water Threat

Date : Wed, 9 May 2012 11:33:53 -0400

For Immediate Release
May 08, 2012 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Wanaque Reservoir Under Dirty Water Threat

The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission has proposed to increase the amount of water that can be removed from the Wanaque reservoir system, or the "safe yield". This is the largest reservoir system in the state.Currently 173 million gallons per day (MGD) can be taken but this would increase to 190 MGD.This raises serious concerns for our water quality and could impact the drinking water supply for over 2 million people.The New Jersey Sierra Club has called on DEP to hold a public hearing on this proposal so that the public can learn more.This is too important.The Sierra Club submitted comments to the DEP urging them to deny this increase.

"Calling it an increase in the safe yield is an oxymoron. It is really a dangerous game of manipulating our reservoir and threatening our water supply with more pollution.Increasing the yield on paper does not mean that it is actually feasible without serious impacts to water quality and the water supply.The DEP needs to review all the potential impacts and hold a public hearing disclosing those findings before moving forward with this proposal that will impact the drinking water for so many people," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club. The proposal will increase nutrient loading in the Reservoir by allowing more water to be pumped in from the Pompton and lower Passaic Rivers.There is already a serious nutrient problem and this will only make it worse.Industrial discharges and heavy metals could potentially enter the Reservoir system from the Passaic River when the pumping station is used. Pumping dirty water into the Wanaque Reservoir will add to filtration and electrical costs for consumers.The Wanaque Reservoir is a Category One water body and pumping in more water from impaired water bodies violates the anti-degradation criteria of that reservoir.

"When they turn on the pumps you can see the water quality in the Reservoir actually change.The color of the water begins to change and algae starts to grow.Now they want to pump more dirty water in," *said Jeff Tittel*. This proposal will impact water supply intakes further downstream and wastewater discharges by increasing the concentration of pollutants and lowering water levels in the river, making the water dirtier.In 1999, at Little Falls the Passaic River was running at over 10 milligrams per liter of nitrates, higher than the Safe Drinking Water Act standard.Since nitrates cannot be diluted, this threatened our water supply intakes.Now there will be less water in the Passaic River during dry periods and even higher levels of pollutants.The proposal could also dramatically reduce the ability to assimilate pollutants for discharges.Also in 1999, the Wanaque Reservoir filters were being clogged by algae from pumping dirty water in, undermining the ability of the reservoir to be able to deliver clean water during a drought. Increasing pumping into the Reservoir creates a vicious a cycle of pollution.With this proposal we will be pumping more dirty water up, therefore the water being released to come downstream will have more pollutants and will pick up more pollutants along the way, until it is again pumped back up to the Reservoir.This rotation adds more pollution to the waterways each time.

"One of the problems in the Passaic Basin with the water cycling is that you can enjoy a beer on Friday night and find it in your coffee Saturday morning," said Jeff Tittel. We do not know what the full impacts of this proposal will be as the New Jersey Water Supply Master Plan has not been updated in almost twenty years.The markers for drought conditions have not been updated to include new development and increased water allocations to serve those developments.This could impact the ability of the Wanaque Water System and interconnected water bodies such as the Ramapo and Pompton Rivers to maintain ecological flows in the river.Reducing these water bodies to drought conditions would impact water temperatures, the health of the local ecosystems, and water quality. This proposal to increase the safe yield will also impact the DEP's ability to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Passaic River.A TMDL is a tool under the Clean Water Act to clean up the Passaic River by reducing the amount of pollutants entering the waterway.Increasing the yield will reduce the flows in the River, which will increase the concentration of pollutants.By withdrawing more water it will change and undermine the entire TMDL program by adding more pollution. Increasing the safe yield will encourage more development and sprawl in certain areas, potentially impacting water quality with more point and non-point pollution.By allowing for more development in the Highlands you will lose the dilution you need to make up for existing pollution.If you begin pumping up dirty water and losing dilution, there is going to be a multiplying effect of dramatically degraded water quality in the Wanaque Reservoir. Governor Christie has been weakening protections in the watershed and this proposal will only make the water dirtier.Governor Christie has been weakening protections for the Highlands region by appointing individuals to the Highlands Council that have spoken out publically against Highlands protections and have challenged the science behind the Regional Master Plan.The Governor orchestrating the ouster of the Council's Executive Director and installed a Morris County Freeholder with no planning or natural resource management experience as a replacement.The Governor's State Strategic Plan turns the Highlands Planning Area into a growth area and calls for moresewers there. The DEP has holding closed door meetings to rewrite and weaken some of our most important water quality rules. The Stormwater Management regulations are being rewritten to weaken protections for headwaters, 300 foot buffers and recharge areas.The nitrate dilution model is being weakened to add more development in environmentally sensitive areas.The models are an important tool in protecting ground water and streams from pollution.The buffers and fill limitations in the Flood Hazard Area rules are being rolled back.Even though most counties have submitted water quality management plans that comply with the 2008 Water Quality Management Planning (WQMP) Rules,the DEP is delaying their implementation force more development and add more sewers in environmentally sensitive areas.

"We are concerned that this will impact the environment and public health for the people who drink the water while creating the potential for more flooding," said Jeff Tittel. "At the same time the Christie administration is trying to weaken protections for clean water, they want to pump in water that will make our largest reservoir system dirtier."

Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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