Smith Bills To Improve Environmental Quality Of Barnegat Bay Approved By Joint Committees

Measures Would Regulate Fertilizer Content, Improve Rain Filtration and Reduce Nonpoint Source Pollution in the Barnegat Bay

TOMS RIVER – A package of bills sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Bob Smith and Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee Chairman John McKeon which would establish several new environmental rules in an effort to reverse decades of environmental neglect and contamination of the Barnegat Bay was approved by both committees at a joint meeting today at the Jersey Shore.

“The Barnegat Bay is a major environmental asset for this region of the State, bringing in millions of dollars in tourism and eco-tourism each year,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset. “Unless we’re willing to examine our impact on the bay’s ecosystem and do something about it, the water quality and sustainability of the bay will continue to deteriorate and deteriorate until it becomes a lifeless cesspool of pollution. We owe it to the residents of the shore and the thousands of people who flock to the Barnegat Bay each year for vacation to try to reverse course on decades of misuse and neglect.”

Barnegat Bay has been an environmental disaster more than 30 years in the making, according to Senator Smith. The bay is listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as having the second-worst eutrophication problem in the country, just behind the Chesapeake Bay. Eutrophication is caused by high levels of nutrients in the water, causing an excessive amount of plant and algae growth which chokes out native species. Nutrient-rich water also invites invasive species, such as sea nettles, which further complicates the survival of native species and the sustainability of the ecosystem.

According to Senator Smith, overdevelopment of the 660-square-mile Barnegat Bay watershed is one of the key reasons for the nutrient run-off collected in the bay. Each summer, more than half a million year-round residents and nearly 1 million tourists come to the Barnegat Bay, contributing $3.3 billion to the region’s economy. Between the boom in impervious cover, the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous, and the lack of proper rain filtration to handle heavy rainfall, approximately 1.4 million pounds of nitrogen – enough to fill 70,000 bags of fertilizer – end up in the bay each year.

“Barnegat Bay is dying, and unless we take action now, we will lose the bay within a generation,” said Senator Smith. “This isn’t a matter of doomsday prediction for the future of the bay. Doomsday is here, and we have to take a coordinated approach if we want to preserve this national treasure for future New Jerseyans.”

The first bill in the package, S-1410, sponsored by Senator Smith and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, D-Middlesex and Somerset, would require that soil at a construction site be restored to its optimal condition following the completion of construction in order to facilitate proper drainage and other natural biological and physical functions. Under the bill, the State Soil Conservation Committee would be required to adopt standards for soil restoration measures, so that, to the maximum extent possible, cost-effective soil restoration takes place. Senator Smith said that compacted soil, created through the removal of top soil and the weight of heavy construction machinery used during development, creates an impervious surface, causing decreased water filtration and increased stormwater runoff, a major source for nonpoint source pollution in the Barnegat Bay.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Environment Committee today. The bill had previously been approved by the Assembly Environment Committee in May.

“Whether we’re talking about compacted soil or a cement driveway, the end result is the same – water cannot seep into the ground, and flows into the bay, taking any surface pollution and fertilizer with it,” said Senator Smith. “By requiring that soil be restored to its optimal condition, we improve soil filtration and ensure less contamination finds its way to the bay.”

The second bill in the package, S-1411, would establish new standards for the application and content of fertilizer in New Jersey. Under the bill, individuals would be prohibited from applying fertilizer within 10 feet of any water body in the State, or five feet from a water body when using a drop spreader, rotary spreader with a deflector, or any other targeted spray. Municipalities would have the option to increase this buffer up to 25 feet and 10 feet respectively for distressed bodies of water.

In addition to the buffer zone, the bill would tighten the application, manufacture and retail sales standards for fertilizer in New Jersey. Under the new standards, individuals would be prohibited from applying fertilizer which contained more than 0.75 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of coverage. Professional fertilizer applicators would be held to a standard of no more than 0.7 pounds of water-soluble nitrogen and no more than one pound of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, so long as they stay below the annual threshold of 4.25 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at the site. The manufacturing and retail sale standards would prohibit fertilizers which contain more than 0.75 pounds of total nitrogen, at least 30 percent of which shall be slow release nitrogen. In addition to the nitrogen requirements, fertilizers containing phosphorous would be prohibited, and fertilizers manufactured in New Jersey would have a labeling requirement which would identify the type of nitrogen contained in the fertilizer as well as a summary of best management practices. The manufacture, retail sale and labeling requirements would go into effect January 1, 2012 to give manufacturers time to comply to the new standards.

The bill was approved by a vote of 4-0, with one abstention by the Senate Environment Committee and 5-0 with two abstentions by the Assembly Environment Committee.

“The new fertilizer manufacturing and sales requirements will hopefully go a long way to reduce the nutrient levels in the bay and other contaminated water sources throughout the State,” said Senator Smith. “We’re not begrudging anyone from having a lush, green lawn. However, that shouldn’t come at the cost of the future sustainability and viability of the Barnegat Bay.”

The third bill in the package, S-1815, would establish a stormwater management system pilot project in Ocean County. Under the bill, the Ocean County Utilities Authority would be permitted to establish, provide and maintain a stormwater management system to manage stormwater runoff for the county. The purpose of the stormwater management project would be to minimize stormwater runoff into the Barnegat Bay, control flooding and enhance groundwater recharge through repairing and retrofitting the 2,700 stormwater basins in Ocean County, many of which are malfunctioning, causing contaminated water to leak into the watershed.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees.

“During a heavy rainfall, the more than two thousand stormwater basins throughout the county are deluged, and cannot filter the rain water fast enough,” said Senator Smith. “As a result, these basins spill out into bay, and contribute to the nonpoint source pollution which is wreaking havoc on the environment. Through this bill, we can restore these stormwater basins to allow them to do the job for which they were created.”

The final bill in the package, S-1856, would authorize the Ocean County Planning Board, in conjunction with each municipality in the Barnegat Bay watershed, to develop a stormwater and nonpoint source pollution management plan for the watershed. The plan would include methods to manage and reduce siltation and prevent pollution caused by stormwater runoff and nonpoint sources which could degrade the water quality of the Barnegat Bay and its tributaries, interfering with water-based recreation, or adversely affecting aquatic, estuarine and marine life. The funding of the stormwater management plan would come from a fee for any new development within the Barnegat Bay watershed.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees.

“At the end of the day, unless we have an adaptive stormwater management plan in place, any of our efforts will amount to a drop in the bucket,” said Senator Smith. “Not only do we have to take action now for the Barnegat Bay, but we have to set a plan for the future, to ensure that our efforts aren’t undone by future neglect and abuse. This can’t be a one-time fix, but must be an ongoing program to preserve the bay for generations to come.”

All four bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.