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PLANNING FOR NEW JERSEY'S LARGEST RIVER BASIN

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The New Jersey Water Supply Authority is developing a draft watershed management plan for the Raritan River Basin, a 1,100 square mile area in central New Jersey. The plan, developed through an extensive and intensive public participation process, must address both surface water quality problems and a variety of other natural resource issues. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) funds most planning costs and will formally adopt the watershed management plan, giving it the force of regulation. Similar to some states, New Jersey is implementing watershed management through a formal statewide, State-initiated process. However, NJDEP has contracted with other non-profit or government agencies to manage each project.

The Raritan Basin Watershed Management Project is one of 16 such projects, covering three of New Jersey's twenty “Watershed Management Areas” – the Lower Raritan, the Millstone and the Upper Raritan. Geology ranges from recent coastal plain formations to Precambrian rock of the Highlands physiographic province. The downstream area includes some of New Jersey's oldest urban areas, which are surrounded by a large mass of suburban development. Rural landscapes still exist in the southern and western portions of the Basin.

The Raritan Project planning design is unique in New Jersey, in reaction to problems identified in earlier watershed projects. The other New Jersey projects follow a single model, where large stakeholder committees are formed from the beginning and involved throughout the project, including development of a vision, goals and objectives; identifying and collecting technical information necessary for the project; characterizing and assessing current conditions; and developing management plans. Stakeholders become involved in a four to five year process, with the first two spent primarily in technical tasks that interest relatively few participants. The others often show frustration or burnout because the information they need is lacking.

The Raritan Project stakeholders and project team1 devised an initial, three-step stakeholder process, managed by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA). The first step was a short process to identify issues for study in the characterization and assessment process. In the second step, a smaller but representative stakeholder Characterization Committee worked with the NJWSA to devise methods of study and review draft technical reports. A stakeholder Executive Committee provided project oversight and helped devise the third step. The third step is a management planning process with extensive stakeholder involvement, begun when sufficient technical information is available for a sound planning process. In this manner, NJWSA and stakeholders sought to engage the larger stakeholder group for a shorter period of intense planning using information developed under the guidance of a smaller committee.

The first step took place in March through May 1999. The second step began in May 1999 and ended in August 2001. The third step began in October 2000 and will continue through 2003 when a draft management plan is due to NJDEP. The third step overlapped the second step by several months so the organizing process would end when the last of seven technical reports were released.

To date, the results are promising. By September 2001 all committees for the Basin and the three Watershed Management Areas were fully engaged with the planning process, and the level of public involvement is much greater than during the technical process. The Raritan Project is gaining considerable attention in New Jersey as a model for public involvement, project sequencing, use of the Web (www.raritanbasin.org) for complete watershed management and stakeholder information, and stakeholder-guided characterization and assessment.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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