TRENTON – Flood Defense New Jersey, a coalition of state and local nonprofit organizations working to protect our communities from damaging floods and harmful stormwater pollution, urges local municipalities to act now and invest in green infrastructure projects and stormwater utilities to help manage the dangerous and costly impacts of flooding in New Jersey.

“We are seeing more and more costly examples of the inadequacy and broken condition of our stormwater infrastructure in New Jersey,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “From raging flood waters caused by a tropical storm in Passaic that sucked a woman into a sewer, to reports of seven new harmful algal blooms in several lakes, we can’t continue like this.”

New Jersey has not maintained, upgraded, or replaced old, antiquated, and in some cases, failing stormwater management systems for far too long. For all of New Jersey’s stormwater infrastructure, there exists a $16 billion investment need over the next 20 years.

“All successful businesses understand the need to adapt to changing conditions and make investments that will pay off over the long run.” said Richard Lawton, Executive Director of the NJ Sustainable Business Council.  “As the risk of flooding and HABs increases, so does the risk of economic disruption.  Stormwater utilities are the most effective investments to reduce these risks, while also creating a virtuous cycle of economic activity and development that creates the jobs required to build green infrastructure projects which help protect the lake’s health, residents’ property values, and local economies.”

Our waterways are reeling from the impacts of poor stormwater management. Nearly 95% of New Jersey’s waters don’t meet water quality standards. The ecological integrity of major water bodies in the state are declining, including Lake Hopatcong, Greenwood Lake, and the Barnegat Bay. Last year, at least 37 of New Jersey’s lakes were closed due to confirmed Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs) — with many more suspected — that are largely spurred by unmanaged polluted stormwater runoff dumping nutrients and sediment into the lakes. This provides an abundance of phosphorus that leads to hazardous, potentially toxic blue-green algae to grow out of control. To realize how big of an issue this is, one pound of phosphorus can lead to over a thousand pounds of blue-green algal scum, and last summer Lake Hopatcong was smothered in it, effectively stifling an entire regional economy in its midst.

“It’s time to get serious about protecting public health and our drinking water. Come out and see the phenomenal numbers of people using our lakes and streams for recreation and stress relief during this coronavirus pandemic.  We can’t protect our fellow citizens from toxic algae blooms and fecal bacteria unless we fix stormwater pollution,” said Bill Kibler, Policy Director of the Raritan Headwaters Association. 

“In too many communities, New Jersey’s water infrastructure needs action to ensure safe, reliable drinking water and clean wastewater treatment. Delays in improvement have resulted in the serious issues we confront today: lead in drinking water harming our children; harmful algal blooms restricting water access; and combined sewer overflows polluting our streets and rivers, to name a few. In order to ensure clean water for everyone we need to act now; wisely investing in our infrastructure to solve ongoing and prevent future problems and maximize our financial resources,” said Bree Callahan, Policy and Research Center Coordinator with New Jersey Future. 

“Harmful algae is going to continue to bloom and prevent residents from enjoying local waterways until we take action to control it. At a time when the outdoors is more important to our physical and mental health than ever, we’re asking local leaders to take immediate actions to improve stormwater management and restore New Jersey’s waterways. Establishing a stormwater utility can help communities cope with harmful algal blooms, combined sewer overflows, and other stormwater challenges while also providing predictability, security, and job opportunities.  Communities need to explore whether a stormwater utility is the right tool for their town to provide sustainable funding for green infrastructure that will collect unmanaged stormwater,” Jennifer M. Coffey, ANJEC Executive Director.

One way municipalities can deal with this problem is by implementing green infrastructure projects that will absorb the water like a sponge, and there’s a new tool approved by the state to help pay for these projects. A stormwater utility allows a town, county, water, or sewage authority to assess a fee based on the amount of a property’s impervious surface. The assessed revenue can be used to maintain and upgrade infrastructure designed to reduce pollutants and provide control of stormwater to prevent flooding conditions. The average homeowner or renter can afford it — and since it’s based on a “polluters pay” principle, large commercial properties such as warehouses and big department stores typically pay the largest fees.

We are urging our elected leaders to establish stormwater utilities to invest in local green infrastructure projects that protect our communities, businesses, and way of life. For more information about stormwater utilities visit the Flood Defense Coalition Website at www.njlcvef.org/flood-defense/resources-for-officials.

Flood Defense New Jersey is a coalition of state and local nonprofit organizations working to protect our communities from damaging floods and harmful stormwater pollution. We work across the state to help local communities set up programs to control flooding and reduce pollution. By building proven on-the-ground projects that protect against flooding, capture polluted runoff and repair failing infrastructure, we can help New Jersey communities become cleaner, greener and safer. Steering Committee members include the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, New Jersey Future, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

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