September 13, 2016
With the DEP’s combined sewer overflow (“CSO”) individual permits in effect for officially more than 1 year, let’s take a look at what New Jersey’s CSO communities have accomplished.
The first year of the permit had multiple substantive requirements with which permittees had to comply. To ensure that permittees were making the required progress and fulfilling their permit obligations, NY/NJ Baykeeper meticulously tracked all permit submissions for 5 selected permittees located in or near the watershed of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. This involved obtaining monthly monitoring reports from NJDEP’s “dataminer” website and filing dozens of Office of Public Record Act (“OPRA”) requests to obtain work plans, maps, and progress reports. It appears that the permittees we tracked are in 100% compliance.
What we found out:
- As little as 0.2 inches of rain can cause a CSO discharge event.
- CSO discharge events occur often.
- For example, in June 2016, 4.83 inches of total rain caused CSO discharges on at least 15 separate days in the North Bergen MUA service territory.
- Lots of solids/floatables are going through our combined sewer systems. Removal equipment such as screens catch some of those solids/floatables.
- For example, in May 2016, thirty (30) cubic yards of solids/floatables were measured and removed from outfalls in Elizabeth.
Room for improvement & suggestions in the CSO permitting context:
- DEP should make all reports and discharge information publicly available on its website in an easily accessible way, so that interested citizens can find out what is being discharged into their waterways. Using dataminer and filing public records requests is time-consuming and inefficient. (From personal experience, I can tell you that repeated phone calls and emails can be necessary to obtain simple permit submissions!)
- The public notification website (https://njcso.hdrgateway.com ) needs improvement. Currently, the website highlights municipalities when CSO discharge events are likely to be occurring, i.e. when it rains. Thus, the website is only useful if you check it during a rain event, which most interested citizens may already know that’s when CSO events are likely to occur!
- CSO Supplemental Teams should be formed sooner rather than later, and there should be more teams & hopefully greater public engagement, rather than fewer teams.
With these improvements and continued efforts by New Jersey’s CSO permittees, we are optimistic that New Jersey will continue its slow but steady progress toward completely eliminating all CSOs in the State.
NY/NJ Baykeeper and Hackensack Riverkeeper