Save Barnegat Bay has written DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson requesting action on the petition by numerous environmental groups to protect the Toms River.
February 22, 2007
VIA FACSIMILE and ELECTRONIC MAIL
Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
401 East State Street
7th Floor, East Wing
PO Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402
Dear Commissioner Jackson,
Re: Barnegat Bay Category One and Petition for upgrade to Category One for the Toms River
As you know, Save Barnegat Bay is a not-for-profit environmental group working to conserve undeveloped natural land and clean water throughout the Barnegat Bay Watershed.
The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention the drastic decline in Barnegat Bay’s estuarine ecosystem and overall water quality. We hope that as a first step in an effort to minimize further degradation to this Category One waterbody, you will approve the pending petition to reclassify segments of the Toms River from Category Two to Category One.
Our organization along with American Littoral Society, Environment New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon Society, New Jersey Environmental Federation, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Sierra Club – New Jersey are awaiting your Department’s approval of this petition.
The Toms River watershed is the largest land area in the Barnegat Bay watershed and the River contributes 24% of the total freshwater entering the Bay. Clearly, any additional protections afforded to the Toms River will go a long way in helping maintain and enhance the water quality of the Bay.
The Surface Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9B, statements of policy 7:9B-1.5(a)2 outlines:
“Water is vital to life and comprises an invaluable natural resource which is not to be abused by any segment of the State’s population or economy. It is the policy of the State to restore, maintain and enhance the chemical, physical and biological integrity of its waters, to protect the public health, to safeguard the aquatic biota, protect scenic and ecological values, and to enhance the domestic, municipal, recreational, industrial, agricultural and other reasonable uses of the State’s waters.”
Further, the anti-degradation policy states that:
“Existing uses shall be maintained and protected…No irreversible changes may be made to existing water quality that would impair or preclude attainment of the designated uses of a waterway.”
Recent scientific studies point out unusual and unacceptable changes that outline the degradation of the ecological value of Barnegat Bay. The warning sirens are screaming loud enough that scientists are predicting that the estuary may soon be beyond recovery.
Through a combination of circumstances, “a perfect storm” is culminating in the estuary. Polluted run-off from over-development in the watershed, years of thermal discharge from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, and global warming are all contributing to a dying and impaired bay.
The science of 300 foot buffers to help maintain surface water quality has not only been proven, but has been recognized and upheld by New Jersey’s Supreme Court.
Therefore, Save Barnegat Bay implores you to approve the petition for the upgrade of segments of the Toms River to Category One. The designation is not only necessary to limit degradation to the River, but also Barnegat Bay, which is in and of itself a Category One waterbody.
Consider the economic impacts that will result from unchecked degradation of Barnegat Bay: Tourism, boating, and the fishing industries will all suffer tremendously. The Bay serves a vital function as a ‘nursery’ for young fish populations to grow and mature. We must provide a healthy habitat for them to flourish.
Stress to the biota of the Bay is documented. Science shows that a shift in the types of organisms inhabiting the Bay is causing a chain reaction in the ecosystem. Eventually, the warning sirens already heard by scientists will reach a level for the general public to hear them. For example, the public is already distressed by the appearance of stinging sea nettles to our estuary; Oysters are no longer found in the Bay; hard clams are on a drastic decline; and Scallops have sharply declined and barely exist as of today. When the decline in fish populations becomes evident, it will be too late to ‘Save Barnegat Bay’.
A key factor in the problems plaguing the Bay is excess Nitrogen entering the estuary. The abundance of nitrogen causes nutrient loading, which leads to explosive growth of algae and other plants, resulting in eutrophication. Much as grass responds to fertilizer on a lawn, algal blooms in the Bay flourish on excess nutrients, which cause them to grow and block sunlight to sea grass. When the algal and plant matter decays, it depletes the water of life-sustaining oxygen.
The sea grass, or eelgrass, is critical habitat for numerous organisms found in the bay such as mussels, blue crabs, hard clams, soft clams, scallops, and fish populations. The Department must realize that habitat loss cannot only be a concern on land, but also a factor that must be considered in the Bay.
Sources of nitrogen can be roughly outlined as follows:
• 10% from groundwater introduction
• 40% from atmospheric introduction (majority coal fired power plants)
• 50% from surface run-off introduction
Quite simply, over half of the nutrient loading in the Bay is linked to land use and development in the watershed and must be addressed.
Without adequate protection of the habitat in the estuary, the entire food chain will be disrupted resulting in long-term catastrophic impacts to the Bay and Shore economy.
Save Barnegat Bay is in the process of compiling key scientific reports that point to current and ongoing degradation of the Bay. We remind you of the national significance of our estuary which is recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency National Estuary Program. Our organization wishes to be of assistance in ensuring the State’s compliance with the Clean Water Act by bringing about changes in policy and regulation that will protect this valuable resource from further decline in water and habitat quality.
We anticipate the need to have a meeting with you and key members of your staff in the near future to further discuss the need for more focused attention to issue of eutrophication.
In closing, granting Category One status to the Toms River and other streams and rivers contributing to Barnegat Bay is a crucial part of the sound overall planning and vigorous environmental enforcement needed to protect the resource. However, we also understand there is a need to re-think the current trend in coastal land use and development. We must encourage the implementation of practices in the watershed geared towards developing additional standards to “safeguard the aquatic biota…ecological values….recreational…and other uses” of Barnegat Bay.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you wish to discuss any of these issues in greater detail.
Helen Henderson,Project Manager
William de Camp Jr, Chairman