MICHELE S. BYERS / NJ CONSERVATION FOUNDATION – Placed end to end, the New Jersey rivers and streams proposed for higher environmental protections would stretch from High Point to Cape May and back again – twice!
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection plans to designate nearly 750 additional miles of rivers and streams throughout this state we’re in as “Category 1,” a move that will provide them with stronger protections.
It’s the first major upgrade in more than a decade, and an official recognition that it’s better to strengthen safeguards for sensitive waterways than clean them up after they are polluted.
“Category One waterways provide drinking water and sustain important fish and aquatic resources,’’ said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe, noting that the Category 1 designations also help protect important wildlife habitats.
New Jersey is surrounded by water on three sides, and crossed by thousands of waterways ranging from tiny “headwaters” streams to major rivers. All of these waterways eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware River, Delaware Bay, Hudson River or New York Bay.
Here are a few newly designated waterways:
- The Cooper River in the city of Camden, which flows into the Delaware River;
- The upper sections of the Maurice River in Cumberland County – a federally designated Wild & Scenic River – and many of its tributaries, including the Menantico Creek, Blackwater Branch and Little Robin Branch;
- Much of the South Branch of the Raritan River in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, including tributaries like the Neshanic River, the Rock Brook and Prescott Brook;
- Much of the Lamington River and its tributaries, which flow into the North Branch of the Raritan River;
- Many waterways flowing into the upper Delaware River, including the Pequest River, Paulins Kill River, and the Lubbers Run, a Musconetcong River tributary;
- Sections of the Salem River and its tributaries, including Oldmans Creek and Raccoon Creek. The Salem River flows into the lower Delaware River;
- Upper sections of the Ramapo River in Bergen County. The Ramapo joins with other rivers to become part of the Passaic River, which flows into Newark Bay and, from there, New York Bay;
- The Fishing Creek in Cape May County, which flows into the Delaware Bay at the southern tip of the state.
The state uses a tiered system to classify waterways. The highest tier is made up of streams designated as “Outstanding Natural Resource Waters” to be set aside in their natural state for posterity. Many of these waterways are in the Pine Barrens.
About 6,800 miles of New Jersey waterways are already designated as Category 1 and are protected for their exceptional ecological, water supply, recreation, and/or fisheries values.
Adding 750 miles to Category 1 means these waterways will be protected from development by 300-foot buffers, and wastewater and discharges would have to meet more stringent standards. Essentially, “no measurable change” in water quality will be allowed.
In addition, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection proposes to reclassify waterways based upon fish sampling data, recognizing 24 stream segments as Exceptional Fisheries Resources, or “trout production” waterways. These waterways, located mostly in the New Jersey Highlands region, were found to have naturally reproducing trout.
Trout that reproduce naturally in the wild are the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine,” as their presence indicates clean and healthy water. The Highlands region supplies over two-thirds of the state with drinking water, so streams pristine enough to produce trout are indeed treasures to be preserved!
We applaud the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the years of water quality studies undertaken to provide the basis for these new designations. And special thanks to Raritan Headwaters Association, whose wealth of water quality data helped gain Category 1 protection for miles of streams in the upper Raritan River watershed.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.