A Tale of Two Rivers

In May, Alison M. Jones, Executive Director of our international partner organization No Water No Life, gave a talk in Tewksbury Twp. on the upstream-downstream issues of the Raritan Basin. Alison writes: “The audience was surprised – and then concerned – about the issues faced in the Lower Raritan and that some of the problems flowed down from the Upper Raritan.” After hearing Alison speak, one member of the audience was inspired to write an article for The Bernardsville News comparing the upstream-downstream disconnect in the Raritan Basin to the problems that led to Flint, Michigan’s drinking water debacle.

As in Michigan, in New Jersey we also face a state government willing to accept the public health risks of ignoring – and even compromising – necessary drinking water protections. The Christie administration has put new regulations into effect that will loosen the state’s clean water rules, opening up close to 400,000 acres of sensitive lands to development. While maintaining the integrity of upstream lands is clearly important for communities at higher elevations, the new regulations will have especially dire public health impacts on the state’s historically impaired and poorer downstream areas including the Lower Raritan and Raritan Bay. By opening up upstream lands to development, our downstream areas face compromised drinking water supplies, intensification of flooding, and increased water contamination associated with stormwater flows.

Senator Bob Smith, sponsor of Bill SCR66 that would invalidate Christie’s revisions to the Flood Hazard Control Act rules, has successfully pushed his bill through the Assembly and Senate Committees. There is significant support in the Senate for the bill, including from former Governor Tom Kean, the final hurdle is for Senate President Stephen Sweeney to post the bill to a vote in the full Senate today.

It is not news to our Lower Raritan communities that water, and all attendant pollution, runs downhill. The daily work in our downstream areas must address the clean-up of not only legacy industrial contamination but also non-point-source pollutants that are carried from upstream. The LRWP has been part of a statewide campaign to support Smith’s bill and to encourage Sweeney to post this bill for a vote in Senate, but successfully addressing historic and ongoing threats to the health of our downstream areas will require new and ongoing forms of regional cooperation. Clean drinking water and the health of our communities is at stake.

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