Exciting news for our Upper Raritan watershed!  On March 4th, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a proposal to designate 749 miles of New Jersey’s rivers and streams as Category One (C1) waterways.  This is the first time in over a decade that the state has reclassified waterways – giving them this high level of protection.

The proposal comes in the form of an amendment to New Jersey’s Surface Water Quality Standards that establish anti-degradation policies requiring that impaired waters must be restored to meet standards and existing water quality must be maintained.  C1 waterways are assigned 300-foot development buffers and any wastewater or other regulated discharges will need to meet stringent water quality standards.

Of the 749 miles of streams proposed to be upgraded for their exceptional ecological value and/or fishery resources, over 200 are located in our watershed including stretches of the South Branch, North Branch, Lamington/Black River, Neshanic, Pleasant Run, and McVickers.

According to the 182-page rule proposal, the DEP used their own data collected at 750 monitoring stations to support the C1 designation process.  In addition, the Department utilized data generated by only one other source – Raritan Headwaters, “which followed the department’s protocol in sampling and scoring the data collected…The RHA monitoring program collected high quality data to support the assessment of surface water and the overall health of the Raritan River watershed.”

Now that’s quite an endorsement of our Water Quality program and the work of our watershed scientists under the leadership of Dr. Kristi MacDonald.  And kudos to Bill Kibler for representing RHA in the DEP stakeholder meetings to move the process along and advocate for our waterways. Another example of how our science informs decision-making.

It’s encouraging to see that our NJDEP is taking action and understands that it is more cost effective to prevent degradation through water quality protections, such as upgrading waters to Category One designations, than to restore the waters after they become degraded.

The public has a 60-day period to submit comments on the proposed rule amendment and there will be a public hearing held on April 8th. You can be sure Raritan Headwaters will be capitalizing on this opportunity to step up protections for our drinking water and the health of our streams by submitting comments, watchdogging the process and participating in the scheduled hearing.