New Jersey is heading into a serious winter drought. Our rainfall, groundwater, stream flow, and reservoirs are well below average for this time of year. According to NJDEP’s New Jersey Drought data report, the Central Jersey reservoir is at 70 percent capacity when normally are at 90 percent, daily streamflow and groundwater flow is running 70-90 percent below normal and rainfall is 25-50 percent below normal.

“It looks like New Jersey is heading into another drought. All major indicators are heading in that direction and the state is doing nothing about. Even though the weather is cold, people don’t realize we are heading into a drought. Winter droughts are some of our worst droughts because they lead to summer drought. The 64’ and 81’ droughts started out with winter droughts. Businesses closed and water rationings were in effect for several months,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “When it comes dealing with water supply, it’s a drought of action and a deficit of planning in the NJDEP. Jersey needs to move to a drought watch to fix New Jersey’s broken and antiquated system. They need to focus on not just reservoir levels, but groundwater, rain fall, and river flow too. NJDEP has to make this a priority for the state to focus on this drought.”

Stream flow, groundwater, rainfall, and reservoir flow are down significantly. This is a serious concern. Groundwater feeds the streams, however both groundwater and stream flow are below average. Our stream flow is so low that that it cannot pump our reservoirs. When they are that low, 80-90% can be sewage discharge. The state is looking the other way while we have 4 major parameters (reservoirs, streams, groundwater, and rainfall) down significantly. Overdevelopment and over pumping our reservoirs has reduced our water supply. The central jersey reservoirs should be at 90 percent full (50 billion gallons) when instead are at 70 percent (35 billion gallons). We could be the first state to run out of water.

“We don’t have enough water storage in reservoirs to make up for not being able to take from these streams during a drought. So every year we are playing Russian roulette with our drinking water,” said Tittel.

The Raritan River, Swimming River, and Manasquan River are all running 90 percent below normal flow. With the these rivers and streams so dirty and low, there is not enough water to pump into the reservoir to keep the levels from dropping even further. Our water supply in rivers are too low and dirty because DEP has failed to clean up our waterways.  This makes droughts worse because we don’t have enough back-up supply in our reservoirs.

“The DEP has inadequately updated our Water Supply Master Plan. The plan does not update our drought warning system and fails to include data for river and stream levels. DEP needs to change its methodology for issuing a drought because they don’t look at soil moisture, stream conditions, or stream flows like other states. The problem is more than half of New Jersey’s water supply is from rivers and groundwater, not reservoirs so we could have easily put a warning in place months ago. They need to change the system for more protection. When New Jersey has a drought, they just watch it get worse. This is a drought of action and a deficit of planning”. said Tittel. 

After Hurricane Sandy, we had over one hundred sewage plants knocked out and these facilities must be retrofitted so we can handle future flooding and severe storms. This has caused billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our waterways.

 

“New Jersey is not safe from drought conditions and low reservoirs. The drastically low levels of our reservoirs should be a wake-up call of DEP’s failure to adequately protect our water supply of both quality and quantity. Their drought response is to stand around and pray for rain. We need to take measures to stop our reservoirs from drying up,” said Tittel.  

The Christie Administration have made rolled back important rules for water protections such as the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules and Highlands Septic Density Rules. These rollbacks allow for less protections of waterways and more development in environmentally sensitive areas. They remove stream buffers and allow development on the most pristine streams. This means more pollution in our drinking water and less water availability

“Under these conditions the state would issue a drought watch but all they do is watch the drought get worse. What they should do is issue a drought warning so that the state can actually start with water conservation and other things to lessen the drought that we are heading into. Protecting our water supply and avoiding droughts must be an important issue for the next administration. Water monitoring of the drought system has to be overhauled.  Fixing this broken system should be a priority for the next Administration,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.