TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection formally adopted groundbreaking amendments to the state’s stormwater management rules to better protect water quality by reducing polluted runoff through implementation of green infrastructure technologies. These help to make New Jersey more resilient to storm and flood impacts from climate change, Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced March 2.
According to a release, the amendments emphasize how engineering with nature and focusing on green infrastructure strategies can be more effective at managing polluted runoff and reducing flooding when compared to older stormwater collection systems and approaches.
“Nature is one of our best allies in reducing flooding risks and managing stormwater runoff that pollutes waterways,” McCabe stated. “These amendments, resulting from extensive discussions with stakeholders and experts, mark a milestone in how New Jersey manages and regulates stormwater. The DEP is working with stakeholders on additional stormwater management rule changes to even further advance Governor Murphy’s commitment to protecting the environment and making the state more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”
Stormwater runoff is a major source of water pollution throughout New Jersey and across the nation. Every day, runoff from storms carries fertilizers, pesticides, automotive fluids, and other pollutants into waterways, degrading ecosystems and impairing lakes, streams, and rivers. Poorly controlled stormwater also exacerbates dangerous flooding conditions, and the increase in projected rainfall and extreme weather due to climate change creates added risk for harm to people and property from stormwater runoff.
A cornerstone of these new stormwater rules is the requirement for permit applicants to use green infrastructure, rather than more traditional engineered structures, to reduce stormwater runoff and achieve water quality goals.
Green infrastructure includes a broad range of technologies – which can be implemented by homeowners, businesses, municipalities, and counties – including rain gardens, bio-retention basins, vegetated swales, and green roofs.
Also, green infrastructure technologies have become much more practical at managing runoff from paved surfaces and roofs.
Green infrastructure more naturally manages stormwater, allowing better infiltration of above-ground stormwater into the groundwater deeper beneath one's feet.
This infiltration process is simple: It uses vegetation and soil to naturally filter out pollutants. Green infrastructure can also include ways to store some stormwater runoff for later beneficial reuse, such as irrigation.
In addition to protecting and better managing stormwater, these approaches beautify communities and help in the fight against climate change by creating carbon-sequestering green space.
Creating these green spaces also mitigates the “heat-island effect” caused by construction and paving, which can raise average temperatures in urban areas more than in less developed areas.
The amendments, which also redefine the types of surfaces subject to the rules and changes to better support water quality-protection efforts in urban communities with combined sewer systems, will take effect in one year, allowing time for a smooth transition to the new requirements.
The DEP’s work on the amendments has spanned years of research and cooperation with other state agencies and stakeholders. Key to success has been a series of stakeholder meetings comprised of engineers, scientists, state and municipal officials, environmental groups and business leaders who offered creative suggestions on making protections even better.
“I am proud of the collaborative work accomplished by the DEP and all our stakeholders in working toward these important amendments,” Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources Management Michele Putnam stated. “As the most densely populated state, New Jersey must remain proactive and open to better ways to manage stormwater.”
The one-year effective date for implementation will help in the transition of management of reviews for projects at the state and local levels and provide flexibility to major developments that are currently in the design and planning process.
It also provides time for municipalities to develop accompanying local ordinances and for the training of design engineers and municipal review staff.