TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection wants to designate 749 miles of rivers and streams as Category One waterways, marking the first time in more than a decade that the state has designated waterways to this high level of protection, according to Commissioner Catherine R. McCab.
“Category One waterways provide drinking water and sustain important fish and aquatic resources,” Commissioner McCabe said. “In addition, the actions the state takes to preserve water quality for these waterways help protect ecosystems that provide important wildlife habitats and improve our quality of life.”
Any wastewater or other regulated discharges impacting these waterways will need to meet stringent water quality standards. These areas also will be afforded 300-foot development buffers under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act, better protecting water quality as well as lives and property.
State officials filed the proposed classification changes in the New Jersey Register as amendments to its Surface Water Quality Standards Rule. Upon adoption, these will be the first additions of Category 1, or C-1, waterways since 2008, when the state designated 686 miles of rivers and streams to this high level of protection.
Specifically, the DEP proposes to upgrade 734 waterway miles for their exceptional ecological value and another 53 miles for their exceptional fishery resources. Thirty-eight miles overlap both categories.
These waters flow through 67 municipalities within the Upper Delaware, Lower Delaware, Northwest, Raritan and Atlantic Coastal regions. Among the waterways to be classified are portions of the Pequest River in Warren County, the Salem River in Salem County, the South Branch of the Raritan River in Somerset and Hunterdon counties, the Lamington River in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, and the Ramapo River in Bergen County.
The state uses a three-tiered system to designate waterways, with the top tier being those designated as Outstanding Natural Resource Waters that are to be set aside in their natural state for posterity. Many of these are in the Pinelands National Reserve.
Some 6,800 miles of waterways are currently designated as Category 1 and are protected for their exceptional ecological, water supply, recreation, and/or fisheries values. All other waterways are designated Category 2. Those Category 2 waterways not meeting water quality criteria must be improved to meet these criteria.
The classification system began in 1985, when the state began using Category 1 designations for waterways within parks and state wildlife management areas as well as trout production rivers. In 2003, the state broadened the scope of the designation to include waterways providing both exceptional ecological and exceptional water-supply significance.
The DEP’s proposed upgrades for exceptional ecological value are based on stringent scientific criteria, including verifications by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife of suitable habitat for threatened and endangered species such as bog turtles and mussels, species that depend on high water quality. Similarly, the DEP based its reclassifications for exceptional fishery resources on trout sampling data over the course of multiple seasons.
Over the years, the DEP has partnered on countless projects and initiatives to improve water quality, including projects to reduce stormwater runoff and educate the public about its effects, The DEP also works to restore eroded shorelines, remove obsolete dams to improve water flow and migratory fish passage, remove litter, monitor water quality, implement environmentally sound planning practices and address effluent from wastewater treatment plants and other dischargers.
The DEP will hold a public hearing on April 8 at 1:00 p.m. at the New Jersey Forensic Science Technology Center Auditorium, 1200 Negron Drive, Hamilton 08691.
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