State DEP Continues to Stall Release of Long-Overdue Draft Water-Supply Plan

Jon Hurdle | May 18, 2015 | Energy & Environment
NJ does not face drought crisis, but stringent conservation measures almost sure to be recommended by water-supply council

water dripping faucet
Increasingly frustrated with the Christie administration for not releasing the latest draft of a water-supply plan developed three years ago, the state’s Water Supply Advisory Council once again called on the state DEP to release some of its findings so the council can get down to business.

The blueprint, which has not been updated since 1996, is meant to help protect the state’s water supply until 2040 and is expected to differ significantly from the previous plan due to a jump in population and concerns about climate change.

Some members of the council, which advises the DEP, have never seen the draft, because it’s been under wraps since 2012.

On April 20, the panel wrote to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, asking him to release the draft so that panelists could review what they expect to be significant revisions.

But by Friday, the council still had not received a reply to the letter, prompting members to almost plead with the department to at least release some of the data in the report so that they could begin their evaluation of an extensive document.

“I’m not aware that we’ve had a response to our letter,” said Council chairman Chris Andreasen, director of engineering at Middlesex Water Company.

Jeff Hoffman, a DEP official who is the department’s liaison with the council, said he would ask whether some data from the report could be made available but stressed that its analysis and recommendations could not be released until the draft is final.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP, said Friday there was no new information on when the report might be released.

Jennifer Coffey, a council member who is executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said she was disappointed by the report’s continued absence but assumed it was because of the complexity of the task of planning for water supply on a statewide basis.

“Planning for water supply is extremely complicated given the multiple uses that we have for business, recreation, ecology, residential use,” she said. “We are the most densely populated state in the nation, and we have an enormous amount of aquifers and streams that violate water-quality standards.”

She predicted that the report will call for increased water-conservation measures among all kinds of water users. “There will be some difficult decisions to be made,” she said.

New Jersey does not face a water crisis on the scale of the California drought, and so has the opportunity to make long-term plans for providing water for a growing population, Coffey said.

Dan Van Abs, a Rutgers professor who is a technical adviser to the Council, said New Jersey’s projected population by 2040 has risen sharply, mostly because of immigration, to 10.4 million from 8.9 million at the time of the last Water Supply Plan in 1996, and so the updated document needs to reflect that. Van Abs also is an NJ Spotlight columnist.

The previous report contained a series of revisions based on the one previous edition, in 1982, Van Abs said. By contrast, the new document, whenever it is issued, will not reflect periodical updates. “That process did not continue,” he said.

[related]Andreasen said he was relatively unconcerned that the DEP had not responded to the panel’s letter, and said the continued delay in publishing the draft report reflects the scale of the task and competing demands on the department’s time.

“It’s just been trying to get the resources put together to be able to get the plan to a point where it’s ready to be put out to the public,” he said.

But he played down expectations that the report could contain radical changes to the water-supply system.

“All the indications are that there will be no surprises coming out of the plan,” he said.

Council members debated whether their request for an early look at the water-supply plan would further delay its publication, which will be accompanied by a series of public meetings.

Coffey of ANJEC argued that any additional time needed for council members to read and evaluate the report would be insignificant.

“It has been delayed for almost 19 years,” she said. “If it takes another month, I would be OK with that process.”

Meanwhile, the DEP’s Hoffman presented a monthly bulletin on the current status of water supply, showing that some parts of North Jersey are seeing “abnormally dry” conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

While reservoir levels are normal in all six of the DEP’s water zones, precipitation in the northwestern area was “moderately dry” for the nine weeks to May 3, while stream flow in that area has been “severely dry” for five weeks, the meeting heard.

Northeastern Jersey’s stream-flow has been “severely dry” for the past five weeks, while its precipitation has been “moderately dry” for the same period.