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Critical Water Issues of New Jersey

New Jersey has the most unique set of challenges for the study of water and environmental issues of any state in the nation. 

Hydrologists training in Stream measurement techniques
USGS Hydrologic Technician Eric Lindbloom and Hydrologists Tim Reed and Mike DaLuca demonstrating the Pygmy and Flowtracker meters in the bypass to the Millstone River at Blackwells Mills, NJ (01402000).(Credit: Blaine T White, USGS . Public domain.)

First, the state is traversed by four physiographic provinces, with the northern third of the state having been glaciated during the most recent glacial advance. The state receives ample rainfall, on the average, forty-four inches of precipitation annually. Both of these factors result in a diverse environment with abundant surface- and groundwater supplies during most years. New Jersey has a land area of just under 7,500 square miles and a population of over 8.1 million people, according to the 2000 census, giving New Jersey a population density of approximately 1,080 persons per square mile-- the most densely populated state in the nation. New census data that were collected in 2000 is of great interest to area planners. These data show that we are continuing to grow at a significant rate in comparison to earlier decades and also compared to other northeastern states. This growth has prompted planners to ask how much additional growth will be allowed in the future. Projections indicate that New Jersey will add another 900,000 people and 400,000 households before the State reaches its limits of development. New Jersey is also one of the most industrialized states, being at the midpoint between the Washington, D.C. and Boston, MA transportation corridor and having excellent access to ports, air transportation, railroads, and the metropolitan areas of New York City, NY and Philadelphia, PA. Yet, in the middle of all this is the New Jersey Pinelands Preserve, a largely undeveloped and sizable area of the Coastal Plain with extensive water resources, and other undeveloped areas in northwestern and southern New Jersey. These factors, in concert, have left New Jersey with water-resources that are plentiful yet often stressed, over-exploited and yet holding enormous future potential-- if managed carefully.

The residents of New Jersey rely on potable water from both ground and surface sources in about equal quantity. The state's water-supply sources, however, are allocated to such an extent that the state must have near average rainfall every year to avoid instituting drought-control measures on its water-supply users. New Jersey, along with its dense population, boasts the largest number of known hazardous waste sites per square mile of any state in nation, with 638 multiple source, multiple media, multiple contaminant sites, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's 1992 Site Status Report. The state also has over 1100 permitted point- source discharges to its waterways. Finally, approximately 480,000 of New Jersey's residents live or work within designated flood hazard areas. Again, all of these factors have led to a state which has inherently highly utilized, and at times overly stressed, water-resource systems.

Getting ready to measure flood waters
Hydrogropher Patrick Bowen floating equipment to the Road overflow measurement site for the Passaic River at Little Falls, New Jersey gage after peak on August 19, 2011.(Credit: Andrew Watson , USGS. Public domain.)

To manage the water resources in a state with a multiplicity of situations that are complex, competitive, and adversely affect the resource, the State of New Jersey has developed some of the most progressive and unique monitoring, assessment, and management programs in the country. Ranking in the top five states in the nation in their programs for dealing with environmental issues, New Jersey's water managers rely heavily on water data and interpretation to guide them in their management decisions. This reliance on water data has brought the U.S. Geological Survey into a close working relationship on many issues with New Jersey managers. The relevant, emerging issues which currently are deemed most in need of New Jersey Water Science Center support, form four broad program areas: watershed and water-supply management, real-time hydrologic hazards, water-quality vulnerability analysis, and hazardous-waste site characterization and remediation research. Work in these program areas defines what we do at the New Jersey Science Center on a daily basis - collection of water data, the analysis of hydrologic processes through research projects and the publication of unbiased hydrologic information.