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A unique partnership of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (the Department) and Passaic Basin dischargers, jump-started by preparation of a Work Plan funded by the dischargers, is undertaking “The Non-Tidal Passaic Basin Nutrient TMDL, A Plan for Achieving Results”. A consultant team, lead by TRC Omni Environmental and HydroQual, is currently conducting this program of data collection, analysis, evaluation, examination of phosphorus standards, and nutrient Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development. The consultants will assist the Department/discharger partnership and basin water purveyors to arrive at an optimized, achievable watershed management plan for the Passaic Basin.

The Passaic program is organized into two phases that are being conducted concurrently. The first phase, designed to assess impairments due to nutrients, will develop several short-term TMDLs that the Department has agreed to provide to USEPA and includes an ambitious data collection program. The second phase will focus on development of a basin-wide simulation modeling framework to determine the final TMDLs necessary to address water use impairments and to evaluate management alternatives to achieve water quality goals.

The sampling program is completed. It features participation by 24 wastewater dischargers, intensive stream monitoring (30 locations) throughout the basin during low flow and high flow conditions, weekly sampling of a subset of locations to assess temporal changes, diurnal dissolved oxygen and biomass (algae and attached periphyton) surveys at 20 locations, sediment oxygen demand measurement, storm monitoring for evaluating land use/runoff relationships and baseflow monitoring. The scheduling is such that the sampling program was completed during the summer-fall of 2003. Results from the sampling program and preliminary analyses of the data, if available, will be summarized in the paper.

The Passaic River Basin modeling will incorporate hydraulic flow modeling tasks being performed by USGS and Passaic Basin water supply reservoir modeling results. The entire Passaic Basin TMDL project will be completed by December 2004. During the late 1980s, the Department joined USEPA in promoting the philosophy that an integrated, scientific, holistic approach: e.g., the watershed approach, represented the “best chance” to protect, enhance and manage the water resources of New Jersey and the nation. A pilot watershed plan was initiated in 1993 for the Whippany River, a Passaic River tributary. A key finding of the Whippany River study was that, although the total phosphorus (TP) concentration was much greater than 0.1 mg/L (the Department definition of impaired), none of the Whippany River uses was impaired. A statewide watershed program was rolled out by the Department in the late 1990s. Twenty (20) Watershed Management Areas (WMAs) were delineated and funded to form stakeholder teams and begin the planning process.

Dissatisfied with the slow rate of progress toward watershed plans and mindful of the USEPA Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) deadlines for the development of TMDLs, the Department at the direction of the governor, has recently re-focused attention and resources into imposition of water quality-based effluent limits (WQBELs) for dischargers into impaired waters. The 0.1 mg/L effluent limit was proposed as the basis of a TP TMDL. An “off-ramp” from the limit is allowed for dischargers who successfully demonstrate that phosphorus is not the algal growth limiting nutrient and that phosphorus is not otherwise rendering the water unsuitable for its designated uses; a decidedly individualist approach.

How does the Passaic Basin story end? Will the watershed approach win out? The paper details the Passaic River program and also presents the stakeholder interactions preceding the program. To date the watershed approach prevails.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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