Advocates Have Given Up on Christie Administration Updating Water Supply Plan

The Garden State is supposed to have an updated blueprint that plans the availability and the quality of its water. It’s called a water supply plan. Rutgers Associate Professor Daniel Van Abs helped write the second plan 21 years ago. He also wrote a column for NJ Spotlight saying he’s giving up on the Christie administration to update the plan. He came to the Agnes Varis NJTV News Studio recently to talk with Correspondent Michael Hill on the subject.

Hill: Professor, thank you for joining us.

Van Abs: Thank you for having me.

Hill: You’re welcome, sir. Please tell us, why have you given up on this administration?

Van Abs: The plan has been long delayed. We know that it was drafted as of the middle of 2012. It’s been bouncing back and forth in the administration since then. And I’ve just come to the conclusion that we’re so late in the administration that we’re better off waiting until the next administration.

Hill: Why hasn’t it been updated?

Van Abs: We don’t actually know why it has not been updated. We have not been able to get any information, from the administration, as to specifically why the plan is not out. They’ve made a number of statements over time as to changes being made, edits being made and so on. But, it has been four and a half years.

Hill: Well, let me read you a statement here we got from the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] prepared for NJTV News. This is from one of the spokespersons. He says, “We are still gathering the most updated data for the plan and we are managing New Jersey’s water supply every day while developing the draft water supply plan.” Your thoughts on that.

Van Abs: Well, two parts. One is, gathering data. You can never get to the point where you have all of the data, all of the time.

Hill: Because it is changing?

Van Abs: Because it always changes. And so you hit a point where you have pencils down. Where you say these are the data that we are going to use in the plan. You stop collecting new data. You put out a plan and you know that you can update it later on. The department has the responsibility of managing the state’s waters, but what’s lacking is an overall plan that then give the public a sense of how and why the state is managing the waters, as it is.

Hill: Now, I believe, I read somewhere that it’s mandated, by law, that this plan is supposed to be updated every two or four years or something like that?

Van Abs: The plan must, by law, be updated every five years. That does not require a complete revision of the plan, but at least it has to be updated and it has not been updated in far more than five years.

Hill: So, is this administration then in violation of state law?

Van Abs: Legally, yes, but the problem is there’s no repercussion to that. If somebody took them to court and said well you have to put out a plan, the administration would say yes we will do that, but there’s no ability there.

Hill: For advocates like you, are you satisfied with this DEP statement where they are at least monitoring this and keeping it up to date. I think again you just said that they are not informing the public. There are no public hearings and things like that.

Van Abs: Right. So, the department’s day-to-day management of the water supplies is one thing — that’s not really what a water plan is all about. A water supply plan is to look very far into the future and say, what do we really need to have done in the state to both protect our water supplies and to make sure we have enough water supply into the future? These are a public trust resources. Water supply is a public trust resource. And so, if you are going to have a public trust resource you need to have the public’s trust in what you are doing. The lack of a plan makes that very difficult.

Hill: What’s at stake here? By not going through this process, following the law to a tee?

Van Abs: Part of what’s at stake, is that we already are having a problem with public trust of government. Let’s face it, public trust of the executive branch, of the legislative branch are not very high and this feeds that distrust, because people are not seeing transparencies. People are not seeing rapid results. So, even if DEP were correct, in terms of what they are doing, it’s been a long time and so we’re not getting the results that we need from the government.

Hill: So, Professor Daniel Van Abs is saying, you know what? Just forget about this administration, I’ll wait until 2018?

Van Abs: We’re at a point where, if the administration comes out with a plan tomorrow, it will go through a public review process, it will then go through an editing process. Eventually, they will adopt it. Assume they adopt it before the end of the administration. Well a month or two later, a new administration will move in and they will want their own imprint on what happens in New Jersey. So, is it really worth it?

Hill: But you would expect them to have their own imprint, is that right?

Van Abs: I would certainly expect them to.

Hill: And you’ll be advocating for them to come up with the plan as soon as they can?

Van Abs: I  certainly will be.

Hill: All right, good. Professor Daniel Van Abs of Rutgers University. Thank you, professor.

Van Abs: Thank you very much.