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Drought Warning Issued For 14 Counties in New Jersey

NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection Hoping to Avoid More Serious Water Shortage
US Drought Monitor
DEP designated a drought warning for counties in the northern, central and northern coastal areas of NJ on October 21 US Drought Monitor

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the first time since November 2001, a drought warning has been declared for several counties in the Garden State.

October 21 saw Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin sign an Administrative Order designating a drought warning for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.

The goal of the drought warning is to preserve and balance available water supplies in an effort to avert more serious water shortages in the future.

Plans to direct water transfers among systems, control releases from reservoirs, and modify the rate of flow in streams and rivers in order to balance ecological protection and needs of water suppliers is how the DEP hopes to avoid crisis. 

The designation enables the DEP to more closely manage the reservoir systems that have seen shortages due to ongoing precipitation deficits and deteriorating water-supply conditions. 

"The situation in our reservoir systems that serve some of the most densely populated regions of New Jersey is becoming more critical, with some systems dropping to half their capacity or less," Commissioner Martin said.

It remains to be seen how accurate the DEP's information is about the level of the reservoirs in question.  The agency did not respond to a message left by New Brunswick Today.

When the U.S. Drought Monitor, a national collective of academics, placed northeastern New Jersey in a "moderate drought" designation last summer, the DEP came under fire for their faulty statistics published on their website.

"Everyone except the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection seemed to know that mounting precipitation deficits were becoming a problem for New Jersey's most populous region," began a report published by NJ.com's Stephen Stirling in September 2015.

From that report:

The DEP's measures incorrectly state that there are few water issues facing northeastern New Jersey.

The agency's drought monitoring site has stated that precipitation, reservoir and ground water levels all remain near or above normal.

But for an undetermined amount of time, an analytical error has led the state agency to use and publish erroneous information about the state's water situation, a topic that affects virtually every facet of life in New Jersey, from farming to day-to-day residential water usage.

After initially rejecting an NJ Advance Media inquiry about the seemingly faulty information, the DEP acknowledged that a recent conversion from one National Weather Service product to another had led to an inaccurate processing of information.

"The problem with the precipitation indicators on the web site is being fixed," said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the agency. "We did not realize that there was a problem when we shifted from the (Mid-Atlantic River Forecast Center) data collection system to the more precise Advanced Hydrologic Prediction System."

While United Water, which provides water to more than 800,000, called for voluntarily water restrictions after its reservoirs fell to about 45% of capacity, following a scorching and dry August, DEP reported that United's reservoirs were still at a healthy 60%.

A drought watch calling for voluntary water conservation is currently in effect for Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

The only counties not under a warning or watch are Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland, which have received near or above-normal rainfall over the past several months.

The southwestern part of the state - Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties - relies primarily on groundwater. Precipitation in this part of the state is rated as moderately dry while stream flows and groundwater are rated as severely dry.

In the southern coastal region of the state - Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties - rainfall is near or above normal. Still, stream flow is considered moderately dry.

The DEP says they are continuing to monitor local conditions but at this time has not issued a drought watch or warning for these counties.

The primary goal of the drought warning is to elevate the need for residents and businesses in impacted counties to reduce their water use. 

The DEP offered the following tips to reduce water use:

  • At this time of year, it is appropriate to let your lawns go dormant.
  • Turn sprinkler systems off automatic timers.
  • Use a hose with a hand-held nozzle to water flowers and shrubs, or let them go dormant.
  • Use a broom to sweep the sidewalk, rather than a hose.
  • Wash vehicles with a bucket and do not run the hose more than necessary, or use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • To save water at home, fix leaky faucets and pipes. Consider replacing your toilet with a low-flow version; this can save around 11,000 gallons per year.
  • Upgrade your showerhead to low-flow versions, which can save some 7,700 gallons per year.
  • Upgrade your faucets or install faucet aerators; this can save some 16,000 gallons per year.

More information about the current "water supply status" is available at: www.njdrought.org.  More information about water conservation is also available on the DEP's website.