NY/NJ Baykeeper Releases Its Raritan Bay Initiative

October 18, 2012 marked the 40th Anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act. Much progress has been made, but we still have a way to go to get our waterways fishable, swimmable and drinkable, as promised by the legislation. To mark the 40th Anniversary, NY/NJ Baykeeper asked state and local officials, agency personnel and the public to recommit to the Raritan Bay.

The Raritan Bay is like New Jersey’s Ming Dynasty vase—only kept in a box in the basement. The Raritan Bay is an untapped New Jersey resource; its economic and recreational potential limited by poor water quality. Since the 1970s--thanks to the Clean Water Act and the work of dedicated advocates--the Raritan Bay has been taking baby steps towards improved health. However, there are still algae blooms and trash floating in the water, and making contact with the water can still pose health risks.

In the late 1800’s, the Raritan Bay hosted a booming commercial shellfish industry. Today, only hard-shell clams are harvested from the Raritan Bay and they require expensive depuration due to water quality concerns. People think of the Jersey Shore as ending at Sandy Hook but in fact, it extends right up to Perth Amboy. We’d like to see the Raritan Bay towns enjoy the full benefits of booming beach economies with packed swimming beaches and bustling hotels and waterside restaurants.

NY/NJ Baykeeper has been fighting for the Raritan Bay since 1989; conducting environmental patrols, leading scientific research, organizing creek clean ups, preserving land along the Bay’s tributaries, and advocating on the Bay’s behalf. We believe that the State of New Jersey should invest in a meaningful campaign to restore the Raritan Bay consisting of the following components:

  1. Create a “No Discharge Zone (NDZ)” in the Raritan Bay and make the entire New York Harbor an area where boats may not release sewage. States have the right to ask the EPA to create an NDZ in waterbodies where the state would like to limit the release of sewage. Currently, boats are allowed to release sewage on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, the New York Harbor and the Raritan Bay. New Jersey should join with New York State to create a No Discharge Zone for the entire New York Harbor, including Raritan Bay.
  2. Eliminate combined sewer outflows (CSOs) that discharge raw sewage directly into the water. New Jersey has over 200 outfalls that discharge 23 billion gallons of raw sewage annually when it rains or snow melts. Most of these CSOs are in North Jersey and the water flows into the Raritan Bay. The State of New Jersey currently allows the CSOs to operate under a General Permit, in violation of the Clean Water Act.
  3. Improve stormwater management with a goal of zero run-off into the Raritan Bay. Stormwater collects pollutants and carries them, untreated, directly into the water. Through revised zoning that promotes better stormwater management and the use of green infrastructure (such as rain gardens and impervious surfaces), New Jersey can reduce flooding and limit the pollutants flowing in the Bay.
  4. Preserve land along the shoreline of and the tributaries to the Raritan Bay and restore existing natural areas. Land preservation and restoration reduces flooding and creates a buffer to filter pollution from stormwater before it enters the Bay. The State of New Jersey should direct Green Acres funding to the Bay’s waterfront areas.
  5. Revive oyster related research and restoration. Oysters naturally filter water, create habitat and improve water quality, which is why NY/NJ Baykeeper has been doing research on oyster viability in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary since 1998. In 2010, New Jersey banned oyster research and restoration in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and has not done anything to revive the work. The State should be actively trying to support this important scientific research.
  6. Designate beaches along the Raritan Bayshore as bathing beaches and do regular, protective water quality testing and timely notification of water quality that creates health risks. Despite the fact that people consistently use the beaches along the Raritan Bayshore for primary contact recreation, the State does not classify them as bathing (swimming) beaches and therefore does not do the water quality testing and notification that is protective of public health.
  7. Develop a consistent and meaningful sampling program for the Raritan Bay. This will allow the state and local officials to track trends over time, isolate pollution sources and understand the health of the Bay.

At NY/NJ Baykeeper we never give up in the promise of the Clean Water Act that all waterbodies be fishable and swimmable, including the Raritan Bay. We KNOW Raritan Bay can—like so many other waterbodies nationwide—be healed. Please join us in telling the New Jersey DEP to recommit to the Raritan Bay.