Officials Discuss Stormwater and Sewer Concerns

By Christie Duffy

When it rains and all that water flows off your lawn and down the road, where does it all end up?

According to testimony here today, older stormwater systems can often dump directly into area waterways. And in urban areas, sewers can overflow and combine with sewage before flowing into local rivers and bays.

“New Jersey sees 23 billion gallons of sewage enter our waterways each year. And the EPA rates New Jersey as one of the worst states at addressing this problem,” said Kate Millsaps of the NJ Sierra Club.

A Rutgers researcher testified before lawmakers today that stormwater flowing into the Barnegat Bay contains nitrogen and phosphorus.

“We have got to fix those things or certainly upgrade the stormwater basins and things that would intercept the runoff,” said Rutgers University Professor of Estuarian and Marine Ecology Dr. Michael Kennish.

“Kennish said lawns are killing the bay. Whenever you put fertilizer on the lawn and it rains, a lot of that fertilizer goes into the bay. And that is a big problem,” said Sen. Bob Smith (D-17), chairman of the Environment and Energy Committee.

Environmentalists and elected officials say it’s causing a big environmental problem for the bay’s plant and animal life.

“The overall health continues to deteriorate. You probably get more jellyfish as a result as well. Less crabs, less clams, I mean there is an effect across the board,” said Smith.

Smith is sponsoring two bills addressing New Jersey’s stormwater and sewer problems. The Senate Environment and Energy Committee passed one of them today. Bill S-579 would help to create stormwater utilities in communities where sewage overflows can be a problem.

Also up for discussion today, a bill that would offer incentives to local governments for making improvements to their sewer systems.

And some said today that polluters should also pay for not tending to their own rainwater runoff.

“If you have to pay a water bill, you turn your faucet off after you’re done brushing your teeth. You don’t let it run all night. But if you don’t have to pay a stormwater bill, you just let your parking lot sit out there and don’t make the relatively simple changes to fix it,” said Chris Len, NY/NJ Baykeeper and Hackensack Riverkeeper.

“Those property owners with large impervious surfaces — shopping centers, office parks — should contribute some money every year to solving the problem of the 2,000 malfunctioning stormwater basins around Barnegat Bay. And by the way, it’s not just a problem of Barnegat bay, it’s a problem with the whole state,” Smith said.

Sen. Smith’s bill to create stormwater utilities next heads to the Senate Budget Committee. A similar, larger bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly in the last legislative session. But it was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.