Tackling Combined Sewer Overflows
Could proposed changes to New Jersey’s Stormwater Rule assist municipalities with reducing combined sewer overflows?
Guest blog post by Mo Kinberg, New Jersey Future Community Outreach Manager, Sewage-Free Streets and Rivers, Advisory Board
Increased rainfall caused by climate change is having a negative impact on water quality, especially for communities with combined sewer systems. In 21 New Jersey communities with combined sewer systems, increased rainfall also means an increase in combined sewer overflows (CSOs). These CSOs occur when older sewer systems that convey both sewage and stormwater through one pipe overfill, and release a combination of stormwater and sewage into local waterways or back up onto streets and into basements.
Changes in New Jersey’s Stormwater Management Rule NJAC 7:8 could not come soon enough for communities that are struggling with the health, environmental and economic impacts of CSOs and are in the process of developing required plans to reduce CSOs significantly. Implementation of these plans is estimated to cost in the billions of dollars, and will be paid for primarily by rate-payers. For these communities, keeping stormwater out of their sewers is key to reducing the cost of these plans.
So what’s being proposed?
The proposed Stormwater Management Rule changes the requirement for how property owners meet the rule’s three minimum design and performance standards (stormwater runoff quality and quantity, and groundwater recharge) by requiring green infrastructure (GI) to be used. “GI will not replace traditional ‘gray’ infrastructure, but will complement it by playing the lead role in managing the first inch or two of rain,” said Louise Wilson, director of green infrastructure at New Jersey Future. “The rule does not apply to most urban development because it only applies to ‘major development,’ she continued, “which is defined as a project with an acre of disturbance or a quarter-acre of new impervious cover. The rule also exempts projects within urban redevelopment areas from meeting the recharge standard.”
There will be a second phase of rule changes, which could address urban development issues, but for now, CSO municipalities can update their municipal stormwater ordinances to reduce the threshold for “major development.” Sustainable Jersey has an Enhanced Stormwater Management Control Model Ordinance for Municipalities that can be used to make these changes.
What are people saying about the proposal?
On Jan. 8 a public hearing was held on the proposed stormwater rule. Representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection presented the proposed changes to a substantially filled room of mostly advocacy organizations representing business and environmental interests. The NJDEP reps started by giving an overview of the proposed changes, followed by testimony.
Many groups were supportive of updating New Jersey’s Stormwater Management Rule to require green infrastructure but would like to see the standards to which GI must be used go much further, be more comprehensive and take climate change into account. Several groups recommended changes to the proposed definition of green infrastructure; specifically, for non-structural strategies like preserved forested areas to count towards meeting the rule’s requirements, and for the rules to apply toward existing development in addition to new development. Kandyce Perry, New Jersey Future’s planning and policy manager, suggested that a requirement to treat runoff from sidewalks be included in the rule, as sidewalks are “often polluted with salt and pet waste.”
Rebecca Hammer, deputy director for federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, focused on how the changes to the rule could be clarified to apply to municipalities with combined sewer systems. "We also support the proposed clarification that the rule's water quality requirement applies to properties located in combined sewer areas. And while we continue to believe that the universe of regulated sites must be further expanded to include small sites and redevelopment, we support the current proposal's more limited amendments to the definition of major development, which will help to capture more projects and thereby reduce the impact of development on local waterways and infrastructure."
There were no groups or residents from our state’s CSO communities at the hearing.
The Jan. 8 hearing was the only public hearing held since the rule was published on Dec. 3, 2018, but comments can still be submitted to NJDEP until Feb. 1, 2019.
A copy of the proposal is available from the DEP’s website at http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/proposals/20181203a.pdf. Written comments may be submitted electronically by February 1, 2019 at http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments or in hard copy to:
Gary J. Brower, Esq.
ATTN: DEP Docket No. 03-18-10
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Legal Affairs
Mail Code 401-04L; PO Box 402
401 East State Street, 7th Floor
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402
Read New Jersey Future’s initial comments on the proposed rule.