Putting Barnegat Bay on a ‘Pollution Diet’

State senator wants the EPA to get involved in the ongoing struggle to save Barnegat Bay

It is an approach being used by the federal government in its efforts to restore Chesapeake Bay, but if an influential state senator gets his way, it may be part of New Jersey’s efforts to preserve Barnegat Bay.

Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, is working on a pair of bills to complement a four-bill package approved by the legislature’s two environmental committees earlier this summer. All the bills are aimed at dealing with pollution problems in Barnegat Bay.

Smith’s latest proposal would be a resolution calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a so-called pollution diet for Barnegat Bay, much like the one the agency has proposed to curb phosphorus and nitrogen pollution fouling the Chesapeake.

Establishing a Total Daily Maximum Load

The proposal, first floated during a legislative hearing last week and discussed at a private meeting yesterday with environmentalists in Trenton, would urge the federal agency to establish a Total Daily Maximum Load for the bay and its tributaries.

The agency is in the process of establishing the TDML for the Chesapeake, setting limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment discharged into the bay by different pollution sources. The limits are designed to help the bay and its tributaries meet water-quality standards necessary to restore the health of the Chesapeake’s ecosystem.

This pollution diet will tighten controls on point sources of pollution, including wastewater treatment plants, large agriculture and animal farms and municipal stormwater systems.

A Mixed Review

Surprisingly, environmentalists and conservation advocates gave a mixed review to the idea, saying results have not lived up to goals in some cases.
“In theory, it’s a good idea,’’ said Dave Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “In practice, it’s been an excuse to delay.’’

Willie DeCamp of Save Barnegat Bay also expressed reservations. “We’ve seen them used effectively and ineffectively,’’ he said. “Many environmentalists see progress happen when TDMLs have been used, but I have seen instances where it’s the bureaucratic equivalent of sticking sticks in a bicycle’s spokes.’’

Smith broached the idea of urging the EPA to get involved in Barnegat Bay restoration efforts after hearing Bill Wolfe, a former Department of Environmental Protection employee and now director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, raise the idea.

“It’s the second most eutrophoic bay in America,” said Smith. Eutrophication is the process by which nutrients overload a waterway, choking off oxygen to marine life. “Maybe this will convince the Ocean County officials to get on board,” he added. In a hearing on his legislative package earlier this summer, county officials balked at being ordered to take steps to deal with stormwater runoff fouling Barnegat Bay.

Finding the Funding

While some environmentalists agreed the pollution diet can be an useful tool to help deal with Barnegat Bay’s problems, they noted the New Jersey waterway is not surrounded by large agricultural farms as is the case with the Chesapeake. More importantly, even if a strong TDML is established, it probably will not be successful without a funding source, according to Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

“It can be done, but it’s not easy and you still need a money source,” Tittel said. He also noted there have been problems enforcing strong TDMLs when they have been established. “Even when the courts have imposed TDMLs, there hasn’t been a consequence for not following it.”

Beyond the resolution, Smith also plans to move a bill at his next committee hearing. The proposal would direct the state Department of Transportation to inventory its stormwater basins in the Barnegat Bay watershed.