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By Gita Bajaj | February 13th, 2013 - 5:48pm
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New Sign in Trenton to Promote Clean, Drinking Water Features Highlands Act Sponsors as Part of NJ Highlands Coalition & Pinelands Preservation Alliance Campaign

(TRENTON) Senator Bob Smith and Assemblyman John F. McKeon are on a new sign titled Got Water? which has become part of the skyline, near the train tracks outside the Trenton headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The lawmakers are participating in a billboard campaign which celebrates the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, sponsored by McKeon and Smith, to protect and preserve freshwater sources in the 859,358 acre seven-county Highlands region. It also commemorates the 1979 Pinelands Protection Act that preserves more than 800,000 of the estimated one million acres in the Pine Barrens.

The Got Water? billboard campaign is sponsored by the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

"The Highlands Act signed in 2004 and the Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 has successfully preserved the source of clean drinking water for nearly 75 percent of the state's population. In order to continue this effort, it is critical for New Jersey citizens to support a new open space initiative, preferably in a sustainable manner and with a stable source of funding for open space," Smith (D-Middlesex\Somerset) said.

"As sponsors of the Highlands Act, it was a pleasure for Assemblyman McKeon and me to work with the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance on a spirited campaign to get the law enacted, and it now accomplishes what it set out to do. We are also delighted to be part of the new billboard campaign to promote clean, drinking water," Smith added.

"The loss of environmentally sensitive land is permanent and irreversible. Preservation of the finite amount of freshwater sources in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, is key to our survival, our economic viability and our quality of life. Any attempt to dismantle the Highlands Act, which has successfully preserved the source of clean, drinking water for more than 5.4 million residents of our state, by weakening its well thought out protections based on science and sound public policy, would be untenable," McKeon (D-Essex\Morris) said.

"The Got Water education campaign reinforces the importance of continuing the protections of the Highlands Act as well as recognizes the importance of water preservation in the Pinelands. This is of significant economic as well as environmental value, considering that the comparative cost to purify similar quantities of water would exceed $40 billion, as estimated by Rutgers University," McKeon added.

New Jersey has the fourth lowest water rates in the country largely due to the Highlands, which provides surface and ground water sources that supply 292 municipalities in 16 counties.

The bipartisan Highlands Act lays the groundwork for sustainable planning and smart growth with a Regional Master Plan, and requires municipalities and counties to submit blueprints to the Highlands Council (Council), that are consistent with the plan.

In the first eight years since its formation, the Council, which is responsible for the implementation of the plan, reports an extraordinary conformance record. More than 60 of the 88 municipalities in the Region are reportedly actively working with the Council.

"The Highlands Coalition and Pinelands Preservation Alliance are collaborating on this water campaign to increase public support for these regional planning programs. We can clearly demonstrate the benefits of regional growth management plans that recognize the importance of the region's water to the economy of the state, provide for sustainable growth, preserve irreplaceable farmland and forests, and help keep New Jersey beautiful and unique," said Julia Somers, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. "These plans are both successful and necessary for the long-term prosperity of our state."

The Highlands Region is a 1,250 square mile area in the northwest part of the state noted for its scenic beauty and environmental significance. Comprising 16 percent of the state's land area, it stretches from Phillipsburg in the southwest to Mahwah in the northeast, and lies within portions of seven counties (Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen) that include 88 municipalities.

In addition to freshwater resources, the Highlands contain exceptional natural resources such as contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds and plant and wildlife species habitats. Approximately 110,000 acres of agricultural lands are in active production in the region.

The Pine Barrens also known as the Pinelands, is a heavily forested area of coastal plain that encompasses 1.1 million acres and stretches across southern New Jersey. Covering vast areas of Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Atlantic Counties, the Pinelands occupies 22 percent of the state's land area.

The name "pine barrens" refers to the area's sandy, acidic, nutrient-poor soil, to which the crops originally imported by European settlers did not take well. These uncommon conditions enable the area to support a unique and diverse spectrum of plant life, including orchids, rare pygmy Pitch Pines and other plant species that depend on the frequent fires of the Pine Barrens to reproduce.

“Big, intact forests are the key to our water supply, to the unique plant and animal communities of the Pine Barrens and Highlands, and to the wonderful range of recreational activities these regions afford,” said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

“The only way to save those forests from sprawling development and abuse is through regional growth management planning. Luckily for us New Jerseyans, the Pinelands and Highlands plans are the strongest, most innovative growth management programs in the nation. More than 30 years since its creation, the Pinelands Plan has succeeded in controlling sprawl and protecting irreplaceable resources that would surely have been lost without this strong regional plan,” Montgomery added.

Pinelands forests protect the Kirkwood-Cohansey and Atlantic City aquifers, which provide water to more than one million South Jersey residents as well as millions of visitors to the Jersey shore and resorts, and to hundreds of farms that need clean water for irrigation. The Pine Barrens also help recharge the 17 trillion gallon Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer which contains some of the purest water in the United States.

To underscore the importance of freshwater for human survival and development, the United Nations declared 2005 to 2015 as the Water for Life Decade.

"Let’s put this in perspective by looking at the past and projected growth in global population and the availability of freshwater. While it took millenniums, from the dawn of human history to 1804, for the global population to reach one billion, it took a little more than a century-and-a-half for the population to quadruple to four billion by 1975, thus significantly increasing the demand on the planet's finite supply of clean, drinking water. To further appreciate the urgency of preserving our freshwater sources, consider this: while 71 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water, only one percent is potable for drinking," McKeon said.

"The earth is our inheritance. To squander it & its precious natural resources including clean air and safe drinking water is to jeopardize the continued survival and development of the human race. Failure to protect freshwater sources in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, would tantamount to a reckless endangerment of the survival of our state's present and future generations," he added.

"The Christie administration has a very shaky record on the environment," Smith said. "Even when it comes to the Highlands, when making appointments to the Highlands Council, it was publicly stated that one of the objectives of the commissioners was to dismantle the Highlands Act! This makes it a very difficult environment for the environment. What we have to do is keep up the good fight."

Smith and McKeon said they look forward to working collectively in a bipartisan manner with advocates and other responsible stewards of the environment in the New Jersey Legislature and in the state's citizenry, to protect New Jersey's precious natural resources for present and future generations including exploring a permanent source of funding for open space


Gita Bajaj
(973) 224-4851 cellular
gbajaj@njleg.org email
bajajgita1@yahoo.com email

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