Through its appointments to the Highlands Council the Christie Administration has effectively stalled the Council from further implementation of the Highlands Act. Now, for the first time, the Administration is going after the regulations that protect the water resources of the Highlands that 70% of New Jersey rely on for its plentiful supply of clean drinking water.

By amending the Highlands Preservation Area Septic Density Standards, reducing the minimum lots sizes for new residential development on septic systems from an average of 56 acres to 15 acresby 375%NJDEP is violating the non-degradation mandate, a fundamental tenet of the Highlands Act.

Whether you author your own comments, or clip directly from the discussion points below, whether you include any one topic, or a combination, it is vitally important that you take a few minutes to submit comments by close of business on Friday at the DEP online comments portal HERE.

DEP Docket No. 02-16-04, Highlands Septic Density Standards

1.  Do not degrade Highlands Water. The overriding purpose of the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was to protect the Highlands Region’s critical water supply for over six million people. The NJDEP was charged with adopting stringent land use regulations for the most environmentally sensitive, largely forested, half of the Highlands — the Preservation Area — in order to achieve this protection.  The changes now proposed backslide on the level of protection by increasing the number of allowed residential development on septic systems, without any clear justification, violating the non-degradation mandates of the Highlands Act.

2. The increased residential development permitted by the proposed changes will threaten not only water supply, forests, farmland, and wildlife habitat, including that of rare, threatened and endangered species, but the increased impervious cover from more roofs, roads, driveways, patios, etc., which will degrade water quality and increase flooding

3.  NJDEP has many more appropriate and pressing issues to address than weakening regulations that protect our critical water resources.  For example, the presence of lead and other toxins in NJ water, inefficient and failing infrastructure that wastes up to 25% of costly treated water and updating the overdue Statewide Water Supply Plan, now twenty-five years out of date.

4. Faulty application of good science.  In order to determine how many additional septic systems could be constructed in the Preservation Area without degrading the quality of groundwater, DEP had to determine the amount of nitrates already in the groundwater. They sampled primarily developed areas in the Planning and Preservation Areas, where the level of nitrates are higher than the undeveloped, pristine areas. DEP is applying the higher concentration of nitrates as the level that the pristine areas could sustain before degradation would occur. This is a misapplication of the science and contrary to the intent of the Highlands Act because it is the undeveloped, forested areas, that the Act intended to retain in pristine conditions, in order to protect their water quality and water supply protection capabilities.  

5. With this rule, the NJDEP is responding to the development pressures that the Highlands Act intended to protect against.  The NJDEP is misguided in its proposal because there is no provision of the Highlands Act that justifies the action, nor is the Department responding to a judicial order. The proposal is responsive only to narrow interests that would benefit by an increase in the development potential of the Preservation Area, a perverse interest for the Department of Environmental Protection to elevate above all others.  

6.  NJDEP should focus on redevelopment as opposed to new “greenfield” development in the Highlands.  Promoting new development in the core forests of the Highlands Preservation Area rather than existing developed areas is contrary to the central objectives and goals of the Highlands Act, and against any standard of good planning.

7.  Once a water resource is lost to development it is lost forever!  The contiguous forests of the Highlands Preservation Area act as a natural and cost free water filtration system. Conversion of forested land by development permanently disrupts the ecological services provided by the forest cover, reducing the ability of the Preservation Area to provide these services. This natural forest filter reduces the need for expensive chemical treatment of water supplies. The State has a fundamental responsibility to protect these natural resources and the values they provide us—not further degrade them.

8. The forested Preservation Area is a hugely valuable, public trust resource that will only increase in value as the climate warms. The value of the Preservation Area—as a carbon sink, a heat sink, a water filtration system—is embodied in its pristine, undisturbed, non-fragmented condition. It is our responsibility to maintain these values for subsequent generations, not to extinguish these values for the short term benefit of narrow interests.
Click HERE to open the DEP online comments portal in an additional window. 
In the drop down menu select "DEP Docket No. 02-16-04, Highlands Septic Density Standards"
​About the New Jersey Highlands Coalition

We represent a diverse network of organizations - small and large, local, regional, statewide and national - and individuals with the common goal to protect, enhance and restore the New Jersey Highlands and to preserve the quality and quantity of drinking water both for the 850,000 people in the Highlands as well as the more than 4.6 million people in Northern and Central New Jersey who depend on Highlands water. For more information visit our website:

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