Addressing Polluted Runoff
The greatest source of water pollution in our region today is not factories or other industrial processes but the daily activities of ordinary residents: pesticides and fertilizers we spread on our lawns, petroleum and antifreeze that spill from our cars, leaks from failing septic systems and broken sewer pipes, waste from our pets, soap from washing our cars, road salt we spread on our driveways and sidewalks and other forms of “people pollution”.
When it rains, this witches brew of pollutants wash over our lawns, driveways, parking lots and streets as polluted stormwater runoff. In most cases, the polluted runoff flows into storm drains, then through a series of subterranean pipes that carry the runoff directly to local streams. For most of us, these polluted streams are a source of our drinking water.
The problem is being exacerbated by the steady march of black top, concrete, roof tops and other hard surfaces that are impervious to water. With fewer unpaved areas to filter the polluted runoff and allow it to percolate down into the ground, there is more polluted runoff rushing into our streams and, consequently, more flooding.
These “impervious surfaces” also rob our groundwater; because less water is sinking into the ground, our ground water supplies are not replenished as much as they once were. The changing climate is an additional factor. Warmer weather results in more evaporation, more precipitation and more flooding.
New Jersey has experienced some of the most damaging and expensive flooding in the country. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, between January 1, 1978 an April 30, 2015, New Jersey has received $5,652,736,211 in payments from FEMA to compensate for flood damages.
The Watershed’s strategies to address flooding and polluted runoff at the state and local level:
With funding support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Watershed works with towns to adopt local environmental measures. Municipal stormwater ordinances require steps be taken to mitigate the stormwater impacts of new developments and redevelopments. Stream corridor ordinances prevent new development and clearing of native vegetation near streams that filters pollutants and slows the pace of runoff. Tree protection ordinances prevent the widescale clearing of trees, which perform a natural stormwater mitigation function.
With funding support from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Watershed is working in 16 central New Jersey towns to identify areas with large expanses of asphalt or concrete that can be reduced and/or retrofitted with strategies to capture polluted runoff, filter it with vegetation or other means, and allow it to percolate into the ground. Supplementing our towns’ existing infrastructure with a new kind of “green infrastructure” can help reduce pollution and flooding and improve the condition of our groundwater aquifers.
We work with the state legislature and state agencies to strengthen key environmental laws and regulations, including those implementing the clean water act, the flood hazard protection act and freshwater wetlands protection act. We fight against efforts to weaken these critical programs. We are also strong advocates for the state’s Green Acres program, which preserves key watershed lands, and Blue Acres program, which purchase flood prone properties.