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Posted on: May 14, 2019

Draft Letter From East Amwell Township to NJDEP

DRAFT LETTER FROM East Amwell Township to NJDEP

May , 2019

Gary J.  Brower, Esq.

Attn.: DEP Docket Number: 01-19-01

Office of Legal Affairs, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

401 East State Street, 7th Floor, Mail Code 401-04L

PO Box 402

Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Re: DEP Docket Number: 01-19-01; proposed amendments to New Jersey Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS), N.J.A.C. 7:9

Dear Mr. Brower,

East Amwell Township submits this comment on two specific sections of the proposed rulemaking that involve watersheds and waterways within the Township’s boundaries.

First, East Amwell Township supports the antidegradation designation of the proposed segment of the Neshanic River as a Category One waterway under the New Jersey Surface Water Quality Standards (“the rulemaking”).

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing to upgrade to Category One (C1) “the segment of the Neshanic River running from Back Brook to South Branch Raritan River, including all tributaries, based upon its exceptional ecological significance as a waterbody that supports an exceptional aquatic community”, according to the rulemaking.[1]

The rulemaking describes:

“This segment of the Neshanic River supports healthy benthic macroinvertebrate communities, which indicates low stress on the environmental conditions instream. Based on the Department’s habitat assessment, this segment was assessed to have optimal habitat. Furthermore, the percentage of impervious surface is below the 10 percent threshold value for a subwatershed that is 13.1 square miles. Therefore, the Department is proposing to upgrade this segment of Neshanic River to Category One designation based on its non-impaired macroinvertebrate community, optimal instream habitat, and low percentage of impervious surfaces.”[2] 

East Amwell Township is dependent on individual private water wells and individual subsurface sewage disposal systems to meet the community’s water and sewage needs.  The subwatershed that is included in this nomination is characterized by residential development and agricultural use.  The Township owns open space along a portion of the River, which has a parking lot where foot access to the stream’s riparian area can be accessed. 

Back Brook is not included in the HUC 14 for the lower Neshanic River nominated segment.  As of 2009, the nominated segment has its own HUC14 number: New HUC14#: 02030105030070 New HUC14 name: Neshanic R (below Black (sic) Brk) https://www.njgeology.org/pricelst/tmemo/tm09-2.pdf, 2009, page 18.  Up to date mapping that shows the HUC 14 for the nominated segment can be found at NJ GeoWeb.  Gigi Mallepalle and Bifwarup Guha, DEP rule writers for the Surface Water Quality C1 program, confirmed that the Back Brook is not included in the proposed C1 waterway segment or the HUC 14 subwatershed where the regulations would apply.  Back Brook and the properties along the Brook will not be affected in any way by this rulemaking.

East Amwell Township considers the benefits of the designation to be great for the Township and its residents.  Upstream of the proposed segment, the Neshanic River’s water quality is impaired due to urban land uses, decreased agricultural uses, and two decades of rapid suburbanization.[3]  For instance, urban land increased from 16.6% in the Neshanic upstream of the confluence with Back Brook to 25% in 1995, 31.2% in 2002, and 35.17% in 2007.[4]  

Increased urban land use has resulted in increases of pollutants to the river, including total phosphorus and total suspended solids, and decreased base flow of the river and tributaries due to altered watershed hydrology.  Erosion and vegetation removal due to encroachment close to the river and its tributaries has led to sedimentation of the stream and the destruction of benthic life in the stream.  Flood damages associated with increased flooding exacerbated by upstream urban land use is experienced downstream, as evidenced by flooding in the river and tributaries in the nominated segment along Welisewitz Road, notably in the 1996 ice jam flood on the river near Cider Mill Bridge and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

There is a watershed planning effort underway for the last 8 years to improve upstream watershed health but the degraded condition of the upper watershed does not merit C1 designation.  The protections that will come with C1 designation of the nominated segment will be a good defense against degraded quality of the upper river watershed.  C1 status will require higher treatment standards for all effluent discharges to the Neshanic River within the nominated segment and will provide protection to the riparian buffers of the River and its tributaries within the HUC 14 subwatershed.  The Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules at N.J.A.C. 7:13-4.1(c)1 and Stormwater Management rules and at N.J.A.C. 7:8-5.5(h) and (i) establish a 300-foot riparian zone adjacent to any waters designated as C1 waters.  These protections will substantially benefit East Amwell Township, as well as downstream waterways such as the South Branch Raritan River, by supporting and restoring healthy watershed and surface water quality conditions within the segment.

The rulemaking explains the social, economic and environmental impacts of the rulemaking:

Social:

“The proposed Category One antidegradation designation for the identified streams will ensure that water quality in the State’s most exceptional resource waters is protected, thereby preserving the recreational opportunities and human and aquatic health benefits these waters provide. The maintenance of water quality resources is important to all residents…”[5]

Economic:

“The proposed upgrades of these waters to Category One designation will incorporate protection from measurable changes to the existing water quality, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.5(d)2iii, and will result in a range of economic impacts, ranging from no economic impact to potentially significant impact.

A positive impact of the proposed upgrades will be to reduce development intensity in environmentally sensitive areas, thereby helping to maintain and enhance water quality, biodiversity, and flood control. Intense development in environmentally sensitive areas results in environmental degradation and the cost of restoration and remediation may be passed on to the public, resulting in an inefficient and costly cycle of degradation and restoration.”[6]

Environmental:

“The proposed amendments to the SWQS will have a positive environmental impact by providing appropriate levels of protection for human health, aquatic biota, and ecological systems associated with the State’s waters. These amendments are part of the Department's continuing efforts to restore, maintain, and enhance the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of New Jersey’s waters.

The upgrade in the antidegradation designation of the enumerated waterbody segments will enhance environmental protection for each specified waterbody.

“The additional protection provided by the Category One antidegradation designation ensures that existing water quality is maintained with no measurable change. This will ensure that all waterbodies and their uses continue to be protected, with exceptional waters receiving a greater level of protection to ensure that the ecological integrity and aesthetic value of the waterbody is maintained. Implementation of these rules through permitting and planning programs will help maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the proposed Category One waters.

The designation of new Category One waters and new trout waters will result in additional lands being restricted from development and excluded from sewer service. This will result in a positive environmental impact by reducing development intensity in environmentally sensitive areas, thereby helping to maintain and enhance water quality, biodiversity, and flood control.”[7]

Second, East Amwell Township supports the antidegradation designation of the proposed segment of Rock Brook in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships in Somerset County, which will include tributaries upstream in the HUC 14 subwatershed in East Amwell Township.

DEP is proposing to upgrade the “segment of Rock Brook to Category One status based on its non-impaired macroinvertebrate community, exceptional water quality, and low percentage of impervious surface.”[8]  Tributaries, named or unnamed, including Cat Tail Brook within East Amwell Township, flow to Rock Brook.  DEP mapping shows there are a total of three tributaries, all part of Cat Tail Brook in East Amwell, that flow to Rock Brook.  These tributaries will substantially benefit from increased protections that apply high standards for any discharges and provide 300-foot riparian buffers.  The nominated segment of Rock Brook is mostly forested with an intact forested ecosystem that is habitat to diverse flora and fauna, including threatened and endangered species, is located on Sourland Mountain, and is characterized by sparse residential development.  Protection of this exceptional watershed will result in the social, economic, and environmental benefits outlined by DEP that are cited previously in this letter.

East Amwell Township encourages DEP to approve the proposed rulemaking for these waterways.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

East Amwell Township Mayor

East Amwell Township Committee



[1] https://www.state.nj.us/dep/rules/  Downloaded 5/5/2019, page 80.

[2] Ibid, page 80-81.

[3] “The Neshanic River Watershed Restoration Plan for the Neshanic River Watershed” funded and approved by the Office of Policy Implementation and Watershed Restoration, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Grant Contract #RP06-068), December 2011, page 4.

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.state.nj.us/dep/rules/  Downloaded 5/5/2019, page 130-137.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, page 138-9.

[8] Ibid, page 87.

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