Groups ask NJ to toughen rules on storm pollution

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POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) - Several environmental groups are asking New Jersey officials to do a better job of limiting water pollution caused by storm runoff.

Permits issued by state government for municipal sewer systems, highways, developed sites and other structures should have tougher standards before they are up for renewal at the end of February, the groups said in a recent petition to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

They want stronger requirements to capture polluted runoff using “green infrastructure” such as rain gardens, roadside plantings, and permeable pavement.

“For decades we have had numerous studies that have determined that too much stormwater pollution is entering our waterways and negatively affecting the public’s use of these resources, especially Barnegat Bay,” said Helen Henderson of the American Littoral Society, one of nine groups that petitioned the agency. “This is an opportunity to protect the environment and the economy that relies on clean water.”

The groups said this week’s series of winter storms was a good example of how pollutants regularly make their way into New Jersey waterways. As rain and snow melt flow across property, they wash oil and grease, pet waste, fertilizer, pesticides, bacteria, trash, and other pollutants into waterways, the groups said. Stormwater runoff is the largest source of water pollution in New Jersey, they said.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state’s permits comply with the federal Clean Water Act and include standards that exceed what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires. He said the department will meet with various groups as it updates its stormwater permit program.

“The DEP has long recognized the significant impact that stormwater runoff has on water quality,” Hajna said. “This is especially important in New Jersey because we are so densely populated.”

He said the state agency promotes green infrastructure, such as green roofs, permeable pavement and stormwater control technologies, in reviewing projects, and he noted that the state adopted the nation’s toughest fertilizer standards as part of a package to help Barnegat Bay.

Environmentalists hailed that move, but say much more needs to be done.

Nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon in stormwater pollution are the primary cause of low dissolved oxygen in many New Jersey waterways, they said. Low dissolved oxygen can suffocate or drive away many species that live in the water and which build the base of the ecological food chain. Stormwater is also a primary source of bacteria and viruses that can make water unsafe for human contact.

“The ocean is at the receiving end for all polluted runoff entering waterways,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “It is time to update and strengthen the stormwater rules to ensure that they will improve water quality. Our quality of life, coast, and economy depends on it.”

Besides Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society, the groups included Hackensack Riverkeeper; NY/NJ Baykeeper; Delaware Riverkeeper Network; Pinelands Preservation Alliance; Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association; New Jersey Environmental Lobby; and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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