Stepping Up to Protect NJ’s Water

  • Sunday, 22 March 2015

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March 22 is World Water Day, a global reminder about water’s fundamental support of life.

Clean and abundant water doesn’t happen by itself, which is why the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 established the first World Water Day. Every year, World Water Day shines a spotlight on a particular aspect of water supply and protection.

This year’s theme is “Water and Sustainable Development,” which is especially appropriate for New Jersey. This state we’re in is the most developed in the nation, with an average density more than 1,200 people per square mile.

By the middle of this century, the Garden State is projected to become the first state to reach “full build-out,” a point where all land is either developed or preserved. And if we don’t safeguard our water, the future of our state will be at risk.

“It’s all about the water,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association in Pennington, at the annual New Jersey Land Conservation Conference on March 6. He shared some interesting New Jersey water facts:

New Jersey is actually getting wetter as our climate changes. During the period from 1900 to 1970, the state’s average annual precipitation was 43.86 inches. But in the 21st century, the average has been 49.46 inches, an increase of more than five inches – or 12.7 percent! This wetter weather impacts both flooding and drinking water quality.

Impervious surfaces in the state have been increasing for decades, meaning stormwater has fewer places to soak into the ground. Instead, stormwater runoff gushes toward streams, culverts and storm drains, often causing flash flooding. The state historically has overbuilt in flood plains, so lives and property are increasingly at risk.

At the same time, water quality in streams and rivers is degraded by the increased rainfall. Stream banks erode during heavy rainstorms, filling waterways with muddy sediment. Because much of the state’s drinking water supply comes from rivers, murkier waters make filtration and treatment all the more difficult and expensive.

There are no simple answers, but steps can be taken to protect water quality and control flooding.

One is to preserve more land – especially in places along and near waterways - and restore the natural hydrology of preserved lands. “We need to buy people out (in flood-prone areas) who are willing to be bought out,” said Waltman. This is can be difficult, he acknowledged. Land in New Jersey is expensive and preservation funds are limited.

Individuals and communities can help reduce runoff and sedimentation. One relatively easy way is by installing “rain gardens.” These gardens typically include a depression in the topography to catch runoff water, and the planting of vegetation that thrives in wet conditions. Other measures include green roofs and “rain bladders,” pillow-like storage tanks to maximize collection of rainwater during heavy rainfalls.

Finally, we can defend and support strong regional planning in the Highlands and Pinelands. These regional plans protect forests and wetlands, and steer development toward the most appropriate places and away from natural resources like water supplies.

Celebrate World Water Day by appreciating the H2O we have, and learning more about how to protect this most essential element to life!

For more information, go to the World Water Day website at

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Michele S. Byers is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.


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