Protecting Our Water Resources

Commentary

State Senator Bob Smith

 

Last winter, New Jersey suffered from one of its driest six-month periods in over one hundred years.Rainfall was at least 25 percent below normal for the last year in most counties, and up to 50 percent below normal in the far northern and southern regions of the state.This situation led many policy makers around the state to take a serious look at New Jerseyís natural water resources and water supply infer structure.Experts agree that without serious action by the state government, this crisis will only continue to grow in coming years.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the measures that we in the State Legislature have taken and are planning to shore up our water resources.Should the state not address water supply problems, we will surely see recurring and worsening drought problems in the future.Additionally, in the post-September 11th world, the security of our water resources is of utmost importance.These policy initiatives are imperative to preserving the public health and economic vitality of our state.

 

As a first step, it was necessary to react to the very real possibility of long-term drought conditions by targeting our open space purchasing power to itís maximum effect.My Open Space Acquisition Reform bill (S-889), passed by the legislature and signed by the governor this past summer, shifted the emphasis when acquiring open space from quantity to quality by giving first priority to property that would protect water resources, which include reservoirs, watersheds, aquifers, wetlands, flood plains and stream corridors.Furthermore, it required the state Department of Environmental Protection to draft a Master Plan for General Land Acquisition outlining a strategy for most efficiently acquiring open space with water resource protection as a priority.For too long we have been buying up land in a piecemeal fashion.It is irresponsible for the state to spend millions of tax dollars buying up open space without long-term goals in mind.

 

A serious problem which exacerbated the drought situation is that water supply connections between towns are in a state of disrepair due to a lack of available maintenance funding.Because of a lack of interconnections, some water supplies are not used to full capacity.On the other hand, many of the pipelines that we do have wastefully leak millions of gallons of water each day.As a result, some municipalities were unable to get needed water in times of drought from areas of the state where there may be an excess of water.This problem is particularly affecting towns in northeastern New Jersey.Furthermore, severe water restrictions have cost businesses many millions of dollars.

 

The Clean Water Drought Mitigation and Water Resource Security Trust (S-169), which is now making its way through the Senate, will impose a very small surcharge, three cents per one thousand gallons of water, or $2.40 per year for the average household, to provide for drought monitoring and maintenance costs for the water supply interconnection system.It is a small price to pay to ensure that we are maintaining our infer structure to its maximum capacity and water can be delivered to those who need it most.

 

Additionally, this trust would provide the necessary funding to implement security measures to guard our water supply against terrorist threats.Our water supply is currently much too vulnerable.Existing security measures are not designed to cope with modern methods of physical, chemical and biological attack.The consequences of the disruption of water supplies by outside attack not only presents a serious health risk, but can cripple the business and industry that New Jerseyís economy is built around.The risks posed by not adequately protecting our water supplies far outweigh the costs.

 

We are at a time of critical importance in environmental policy making.While we are all responsible for doing our part to conserve water in times of drought, there are important steps we must take as a state to react to this looming problem.Protecting our water supply is essential to safeguard our lives, maintain our economy and ensure a future for our children and grandchildren.It is my sincere hope that these two pieces of legislation will lay the necessary groundwork for ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for many years to come.

 

Bob Smith is a State Senator representing Piscataway, New Brunswick, Highland Park, Franklin Township, North Brunswick and Milltown.He is a member of the Senate Environment and Judiciary Committees and has served as a member of the legislature since 1986.