Defend NJ Waters Release List Of Top 30 Waterways To Save

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2002 Newsletter)

TRENTON, NJ – As the new Governor’s administration starts to set its priorities, state environmentalists gathered at the State House today to release a list of “New Jersey’s Top 30 Waterways To Save.” The groups called for higher protections and “Priority Status” for these waterways because they all 1) serve as drinking water supplies, 2) provide critical habitat for New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species and 3) the land surrounding them is threatened by development.

The waterways include over 10 of the state’s largest reservoirs, and parts of the Delaware, Hackensack, Passaic and Raritan Rivers, as well as six key rivers in South Jersey. [A full list of the top 30 waterways is attached]

           “There should be places in New Jersey that are protected with a big ‘hands off’ sign from developers. We cannot purchase every acre that is environmentally important in the state of New Jersey. We need clean water regulations that protect these areas from inappropriate development and the subsequent non-point source pollution,” said Douglas O’Malley, Clean Water Associate at New Jersey Public Interest Research Group [NJPIRG].

The Clean Water Act mandates that the state establish a program that protects and prevents pristine waterways from degradation by giving them Priority Status.  Under the Act, these waterways cannot be measurably degraded in any way.  Since 1986, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection [NJDEP] has underutilized this provision, upgrading waterways to Priority Status primarily at the prompting of the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s desire to maintain and reproduce trout stock. Over that time, only a handful of waterways were upgraded, including only one of the state’s 14 largest drinking water reservoirs that provide water to over 3 million state residents.

“Development not only threatens water quality, it also threatens water quantity. Unless we move to protect these rivers, these rivers will not only be polluted, but we will see droughts made worse, putting the water supply for the people of New Jersey at risk,” said Jeff Tittel, Executive Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Protections available to Priority Status under the Clean Water Act include:


“It’s time we faced up to our problems with water quality and supply. Increasing protection for key waterways – giving folks the same protection as trout –is a critical and common-sense step we can take right now. A threatening situation has already been made worse – we can’t afford to wait any longer to make it better,” said David Pringle, the Campaign Director with the New Jersey Environmental Federation [NJEF].


Recent studies have found repeatedly that there is an urgent need for increased protections for waterways from non-point source (run-off) pollution and development:

         Water quality declined by 25 percent from 1993 to 1998 at five sites on the Walkill River in Sussex County near communities where two-thirds of Sussex County’s 3,959 new houses were built in the last decade. (NJDEP and U.S. Census data)

         Between 1982 and 1997, the amount of developed land rose by 34 percent in New Jersey, making New Jersey the most developed state in the nation. 

         Non-point source pollution was just as significant a contributor to declining water quality as point sources in 63 percent of the sites tested and a more significant factor in 16 percent of the sites tested. (NJDEP, 2000) 

         From 1997 to 2000, 57 percent of New Jersey watersheds have declined in quality and nearly all New Jersey waterways are vulnerable to even more decline in the future. (EPA, 2001)


Billing the campaign as “Save Our Waterways,” representatives from Defend New Jersey Waters, the state’s top environmental coalition, include NJPIRG, the New Jersey Sierra Club, NJEF, NJ State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and the Jersey Coast Angler’s Association [JCAA]. The effort is part of a larger five-year effort to protect state waterways by reducing industrial and sewage discharge, limiting over-development and implementing clean-up programs for polluted waterways.

“We must not only protect trout and trout streams but all the fish-containing waters of the state. People should be able to drink the water and safely consume fish from any lake or stream in New Jersey – without worrying about all the advisories,” said Tom Fote, Legislative Chairman of the JCAA.

Currently, development creates the type of pollution commonly referred to as non-point source pollution.  Non-point source pollution is run-off that flows over land areas, picking up contaminants as it flows on its way into the nearest waterway.  The more developed a land area is, the more pollution that running water picks up.

“Pollution from uncontrolled development threatens to undo all the progress we have made to improve water quality in the state,” Mr. O’Malley said.   “The NJDEP has the New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination program in place to limit point source pollution, but it’s all for naught if there is no program to limit the effects of non-point source pollution on the state’s waterways.”




The 30 waterways listed below are both drinking water sources and critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.  These waterways are good examples of which waterways should be given Priority Status and the highest level of protection under the Clean Water Act, but they are not the only ones. 


Reservoirs [Largest to Smallest]

  1. Wanaque Reservoir
  2. Round Valley Reservoir
  3. Spruce Run Reservoir
  4. Boonton Reservoir
  5. Washington Valley Reservoir
  6. Merrill Creek Reservoir
  7. Manasquan Reservoir
  8. Lake Tappan Reservoir
  9. Oradell Reservoir
  10. Swimming River Reservoir
  11. Split Rock Reservoir
  12. Oak Ridge Reservoir
  13. Clinton Reservoir
  14. Atlantic City Reservoir


Rivers and Creeks

1.    The Delaware River and its major tributaries from Washington Crossing to the state’s northern border

  1. The Musconetcong River
  2. The Metedeconk River
  3.  The Wanaque River
  4.  The Ramapo River

6.      The Rockaway River

7.      The Paulinskill River

8.          The Swimming River

     9.      Oldmans Creek

10.      The Salem River

11.     The North and South Branches of the Raritan River

12.     The Upper Passaic River

13.      Rancocas Creek

14.     The Hackensack River (North of the Oradell Reservoir)

15.     The Walkill River

16.     The Manasquan River


Waterways Upstream

Waterways immediately upstream that flow into Priority Waterways should also be given the highest level of protection under the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report last year, citing a direct relationship between suburban and urban development and decreasing water quality.  The study, Water Quality in the Long Island – New Jersey Coastal Drainages: New Jersey and New York, 1996 – 98, concluded that ground water in the Coastal Plain of New Jersey has the highest median nitrate concentrations ever documented by the agency’s nationwide monitoring program.  The Coastal Plain, once an agricultural land area, is now under rapid development and nitrates have accumulated from multiple sources: agriculture, sewer plant discharge and run-off, to add up to the most nitrates ever documented in ground water by the USGS.  


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