Regional watershed plans can restore water quality and protect our water supply.


CanalCurrent development practice has resulted in negative impacts on water quality and quantity. As more roads, parking lots, roofs and sidewalks are built, more surfaces become impervious, preventing rain from infiltrating into the ground and recharging our supply of water. Runoff from storms over these impervious surfaces is all too frequently polluted, and has become a major source of degradation of the water supply in New Jersey. This is called non-point source pollution. Although much improved over the last decade, point sources of pollution from sewage treatment plants and drainage pipes are still a concern.

Although a comprehensive watershed planning process was begun in the 1990s, the projects were cut short by a change in Administration, when concerns were raised as to whether the process would result in regulatory changes to improve water quality protection.

While there have been some proposals for more rigorous protective standards, there has been little thought about how growth can be facilitated in appropriate areas – particularly redevelopment of distressed areas – at the same time as improving the recharge of rain water and the quality of water supplies.

PlanSmart NJ Position

Regional land use planning is the most important Best Management Practice for protecting water quality and supply. Reducing impervious cover in conservation areas and concentrating it in developed areas is key to protecting water resources. We have applied the Smart Growth approach in our VISION 2050 Plan, which is a concept plan to build capacity, protect resources, and reduce the growth in traffic congestion. In order for this concept to work, centers and conservation areas must be identified and growth directed to the centers and away from the conservation areas. The concept needs supporting legislation such as regional Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to be enacted. Watershed plans must be produced that set targets for the restoration of water quality and the protection of the water supply.

Current Projects

PlanSmart NJ recently completed a Settings Report, an Action Plan for the Central Delaware Tributaries Watershed Management Area 11 (WMA 11) and a risk analysis, Smart Growth Alternatives for the Central Delaware communities: Avoiding the Unintended Impacts of Build-out. PlanSmart NJ also developed land use strategies to be applied in the Crosswicks and Doctors Creek Watershed Management Area 20 (WMA 20). We are helping Mercer County prepare for the creation of a regional stormwater plan. PlanSmart NJ is also an active participant in advising NJDEP as to how to revise statewide regulations over wastewater treatment and water quality protection.

PlanSmart NJ has also produced The Green Infrastructure Guide, and is in the process of editing it to make it responsive to a national audience. In it, PlanSmart NJ promotes the concept of natural resources as infrastructure. The Guide is a handbook for planners, public officials, and community volunteers describing tools and techniques that will protect and enhance streams, vegetation, open spaces, street trees, parks, etc.

Past Achievements

Since being founded in 1968, PlanSmart NJ’s achievements in the protection of water resources have included:

  • StreamDeveloping regulations for protecting New Jersey’s stream corridors,
  • Advocating for The Wetlands Protection Act,
  • Co-founding the D & R Greenway, a regional land trust,
  • Creating the Mercer County Green Links Plan,
  • Developing a prototype Action Plan to protect water quality and quantity for WMA 11 Guarding the Watershed Resources of the Central Delaware Communities,
  • Developing a risk assessment protocol using GIS and PlanSmart NJ’s GOZ® model to estimate the volume of pollutants associated with zoning build-out,
  • Developing Smart Growth alternative zoning scenarios that will reduce the amount of impervious surfaces in critical water resources areas.
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