DEP Proposes to Upgrade Environmental Designations for Tuckerton, Westecunk Creeks

Segments of Local Waterways Among 750 River Miles Targeted Throughout State
Apr 03, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Westecunk Creek

The state Department of Environmental Protection wants to upgrade 749 river miles of state waters, including segments of Tuckerton Creek and Westecunk Creek, to category one anti-degradation designation. According to the rule proposal, the upgrades would protect specific waterbodies that contain exceptional aquatic communities and habitat suitable for certain endangered and threatened species.

“Any wastewater or other regulated discharges impacting these waterways will need to meet stringent water quality standards,” according DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. “These areas also will be afforded 300-foot development buffers under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act, better protecting water quality as well as lives and property."

Tuckerton Creek and Westecunk Creek are the only two water bodies in the Atlantic Coastal Plain identified as candidates for the upgrade, based on their non-impaired macroinvertebrate community, optimal instream habitat (in Tuckerton Creek’s case), exceptional water quality and low percentage of impervious surface.

The DEP administers the standards for protection and assigns classification to the state’s surface waters, according to the 182-page rule proposal, authorized by DEP Commissioner McCabe. On Jan. 17, the DEP presented proposed amendments to its surface water quality standards, including surface waters proposed for upgrade, to representatives from environmental groups, regulated entities, municipal and county planning boards, academia and federal regulators.

The proposed new designations would extend to all tributaries flowing into the proposed stream segments, providing additional protection needed to maintain the continued existence of the species and their habitats.

The surface water quality standards designate uses for the waters, as well as the water quality criteria necessary to support those uses, in terms of specified substances such as dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, total suspended solids and toxics. The uses of the water bodies – public potable water supply (after conventional treatment); recreation; fish consumption; shellfish harvesting; maintenance, migration, and propagation of fish; agricultural and industrial water supplies – inform the classifications.

Additionally, the standards establish three tiers of anti-degradation designations and policies for all intrastate surface waters: outstanding national resource waters (ONRW), category one (C1) waters and category two (C2) waters. ONRW is the most protective tier, and waters designated as such must be maintained in their natural state.

Both Tuckerton Creek and Westecunk Creek originate in the Pinelands area and are classified as FW2-NT/SE1, for freshwater, non-trout, saline estuarine. Their dual classification indicates the waters change from freshwater to saline water as they drain into the estuary or ocean, as explained within the proposal.

The DEP is proposing category one anti-degradation designation for segments of each, based on their ecological significance as water bodies supporting exceptional aquatic communities. The segment of Tuckerton Creek runs from the Pinelands Area boundary to Pohatcong Lake; the segment of the Westecunk runs from the Pineland Area boundary to Uriah Branch tributary.

Both support healthy benthic macroinvertebrate communities (benthic means on the creek bottom), which indicate low stress on the environmental conditions instream. The Tuckerton Creek segment was assessed to have optimal habitat. The water quality parameters important to maintaining healthy and balanced aquatic life were found to be met throughout the subwatersheds through which these segments flow; and the impervious surface is below the 10 percent threshold value for subwatersheds that are 5.1 square miles and 9.3 square miles, respectively.

Category one waters, because of their exceptional ecological, recreational, or water supply significance, or as a fisheries resource, are protected from any measurable change to existing water quality to protect their aesthetic value (color, clarity, scenic setting) and ecological integrity (habitat, water quality and biological functions). A water body is considered to be of exceptional ecological significance if it satisfies one of two identified criteria: suitable habitat for one or more of seven identified endangered or threatened species and a documented occurrence of at least one of the species; or an exceptional aquatic community.

Category one waters have more stringent anti-degradation requirements than category two waters, in which the lowering of existing water quality may only be allowed based on social and/or economic justification.

Pollution in state waters may result in future restoration costs, according to the proposal. Restoring surface waters once they become impaired is a difficult, time-consuming and expensive process, so it is generally 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.

Impervious surfaces such as roadways and parking lots impede the infiltration of rainfall into the soil and, by doing so, increase the amount of stormwater runoff from the land, as explained in the document. Impervious surface is an evaluation factor because research has consistently shown a strong relationship between the percentage of impervious surface in a watershed and the watershed’s overall health.

Typical detrimental impacts associated with increasing amounts of impervious surface include higher peak stream flows, resulting in increased stream bank erosion, channel enlargement and sediment production; lower stream base flows, resulting in biological impairment and poor aquatic community integrity; elevated stream temperatures, due to runoff from impervious surfaces; and the introduction of a variety of pollutants into the receiving waterbody, such as petroleum products, metals, nutrients, and pesticides and herbicides.

Ten percent imperviousness typically yields demonstrable loss of aquatic system function, as stated in the proposal.

A public hearing concerning the DEP’s proposal will be held on Monday, April 8, at 1 p.m., at the New Jersey Forensic Science Technology Center Auditorium in Hamilton.

Submit comments by May 3, 2019, electronically at nj.gov/dep/rules/comments. Each comment should be identified by the applicable N.J.A.C. citation, N.J.A.C. 7:9B, with the commenter’s name and affiliation following the comment.

The DEP encourages comments to be submitted electronically, but comments may be submitted on paper to Gary J. Brower, Esq., Attn.: DEP Docket Number 01-19-01, Office of Legal Affairs, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 401 East State St., 7th Floor, Mail Code 401-04L, P.O. Box 402, Trenton, N.J. 08625-0402.  —V.F.

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