Threats to Water in the Pinelands

Our water is a precious natural resource and not an unlimited commodity.


Loss of Water

Our water is a precious natural resource and not an unlimited commodity. On the East Coast we tend to tend to view water as just another utility like telephone, electricity, sewer and cable TV. The attitude of many is “there’s plenty of water, just drill another well for a new housing development.” Unfortunately, this logic is faulty since there are only a few aquifers available for use, and the water levels in almost all of the aquifers in South Jersey are declining at alarming rates.

Berlin Well
Berlin Well

This cornucopian view that we have an inexhaustible supply of water, particularly as it relates to the shallow Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system, is one of the greatest threats facing our wetlands and aquatic ecosystems today. There is an inextricable connection between the shallow groundwater table and nearby streams, rivers and wetlands.

The shallow groundwater table provides over 90 percent of the water to local streams and associated wetlands.

During times of drought, or during the hot summer months, groundwater is, in many cases, the only source of water sustaining our streams. At these times, ecosystems are most vulnerable to the added stress from the loss of water due to pumping from wells. Depending on the locations of wells and the rate of pumping, groundwater withdrawals can be disastrous to the ecosystem. They can actually dry up streams and wetlands.

Water Quality

Pinelands water bodies are extremely sensitive to human influences from housing developments, agricultural activities, septic systems, landfills, and the application of fertilizers and pesticides. Some of the reasons for this are that Pinelands soils are highly porous, composed primarily of quartz (silica), and have little or no organic content and clay. As a result, the soils have little filtering ability with regards to contaminants. These factors, coupled with the strong interconnection between groundwater and streams, make the Pinelands a very fragile ecosystem.

The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is our essential water source in south Jersey, providing water for people and for the Pinelands.

Under natural conditions Pinelands waters are quite acidic, with a pH of 5.0 or less. In addition, the nitrate-nitrogen concentration, which is an indicator of nutrients typically associated with fertilizers and septic systems, is very low, usually less than 0.17 parts per million. The federal drinking water standard is 10 parts per million and the requirement for surface water and groundwater in the Pinelands is 2 parts per million.

There is increasing evidence to support an association between agricultural activities and fertilizer use on home lawns, and nitrate in groundwater. Nutrients entering Pinelands waters increase the rate of growth of non-Pinelands plant species. With time, native Pinelands species are replaced with the more invasive species.

Threats to the Aquifer
  • The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is just beneath the land’s surface and easily polluted by fertilizers, pesticides and runoff from roads and parking lots.
  • About 3,000 wells pump an estimated 35 billion gallons from the aquifer each year.
  • Over-pumping of the aquifer can literally drain ponds and wetlands habitats with long-lasting harm to the Pinelands ecosystem.
  • Over-pumping can cause private and public drinking water wells to fail.
  • Polluting the aquifer will have long-lasting negative impacts on Pinelands plants and animals.
Live in the Pinelands? Learn about the Landscape Makeover Program and how you can reduce stormwater runoff.
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