Pinelands Commission Proposes Stronger Rules to Protect Water
Public comment on water protection due by November 5, 2022.
By Jaclyn Rhoads, Ph.D.October 7, 2022
The Kirkwood-Cohansey (K-C) aquifer is a critical source of water in the Pinelands. Ninety percent of the water found our streams, rivers and wetlands is supplied by this aquifer system. Additionally, about one million people depend on the K-C aquifer (and its related aquifers) for their drinking water.
Since it is located just beneath the land’s surface it is easily polluted by fertilizers, pesticides and runoff from roads and parking lots. About 3,000 wells pump an estimated 35 billion gallons of water 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 as well as cause public and private drinking water wells to fail.
For decades we have pressed the Pinelands Commission to strengthen their rules and better protect the aquifer from excessive withdraws for human use. The Commission and its partners have taken steps to understand factors impacting water levels in the K-C aquifer, and its subsequent impacts on habitat and wildlife. In 2001, the NJ Legislature appropriated $5.5M for the Commission to study the issue; since this time, 12 scientific studies have been completed that form the basis of understanding for the following proposed changes to the CMP:
In summary these changes are:
- A minimum water level must be maintained to sustain essential Pinelands habitat. In the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Water Supply Plan, the agency recommends withdrawing no more than 25% of this minimum volume, but the Commission proposes to restrict withdrawals further at just 20%. The Commission justifies this 5% difference as a buffer against climate change, as well as the fact that the Commission does not regulate withdrawals for agriculture/horticulture.
- All water use in New Jersey is subject to the NJDEP permitting process, but withdrawals in the Pinelands receive additional scrutiny. The Commission proposes increasing the range of wells within the K-C aquifer that would require approval based on their size (lowering the threshold from 100,000 gallons of water withdrawn per day to 50,000).
- The Commission proposes a new paradigm for how water transfers can be calculated among the various subdivisions of the K-C aquifer. Although a single aquifer system is shared by most of the Pinelands, the land can be divided into two “basins” defined by which water body they flow into: the Atlantic Ocean or the Delaware Bay. The new rules would eliminate transfers of water between the two basins. These basins are further divided into different “HUC-11” areas defined by the US Geological Survey; the new rules would ensure that all existing withdrawals in a given HUC-11 would be included when considering an application for a new withdrawal.
PPA supports all of these changes, but we are concerned about a few others as noted below:
- Diversions of water for agricultural and horticultural uses continues to be exempt from these regulations. We believe that this categorization is overly broad, especially given the rise of new-technology operations within the agricultural and horticultural industries. Depending on how the Pinelands Commission handles applications for cannabis cultivation facilities, these water-intensive horticulture operations may experience much growth in the near future. As the Pinelands approaches buildout, and sea level rise pushes development pressure inland, the Commission needs to be prepared for conflicting demands on the aquifer. We urge the Commission to remove horticulture use from exemption to strict compliance with these new regulations.
- Specifically, the draft amendment offers “prohibitive cost” as an acceptable loophole. Allowing this rationale opens the door for applicants to justify overburdening the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer simply because it is cheaper and easier. This lack of clarity around what defines a “viable” alternative fails to match the efforts in other areas of the draft language which attempt to reduce ambiguity to best protect the aquifer. This loophole could seriously undermine the new regulations unless the language is made tighter and more objective.
- Among wells that will not be subject to the new standards are replacements of wells with at least 50,000 gallons of water per day—provided that the new well is the same depth and pump capacity, is from the same aquifer, and is within 100 feet of the existing well. We recommend adding that the new well must also be within the same HUC-11 watershed, since placing the well in a different watershed may present a different ecological impact.
The Commission is accepting public comment on these amendments until November 5, 2022. Submit your comments!
Your comments must include your name and mailing address. Comments can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, via fax at (609) 894-7330 or sent directly to the Pinelands Commission office, P.O. Box 359, New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064 to the attention of Susan R. Grogan, Acting Executive Director.
The Commission will hold a virtual public hearing on Wednesday, October 12th at 9:30 AM. To view the hearing live, use this link to the Pinelands Commission’s YouTube channel. The public can provide comment during the hearing by calling (929) 205-6099 and using Meeting ID: 815 0448 8031.
If you have questions please contact Jack McCausland, Water Outreach Specialist at email@example.com.