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EPA Awards $900,000 to Improve Passaic River Watershed

Release Date: 07/19/2004
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(#04112) New York, N.Y. -- Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is granting $900,000 to a coalition of Rutgers University and Cornell University experts and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve water quality in the upper Passaic River. EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny appeared with grant partners Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell of DEP and Rutgers Dean of Cook College Keith Cooper at the Verona Wastewater Treatment Plant in Verona, New Jersey to announce the grant, which will be used to develop, implement and evaluate a pollution trading program in the non-tidal portion of the Passaic River. The program will establish a trading system geared toward achieving water quality standards for phosphorous in the Passaic Watershed. Verona Mayor Robert Detore also joined in at the announcement.

"This grant will provide the funds needed to improve water quality in one of the most impacted rivers in New Jersey," said Regional Administrator Kenny. "By taking a leadership role and developing this new, innovative way of reducing pollutants in the Passaic, this coalition will demonstrate that we can achieve great success when we work together."

"This project is the first of its kind in New Jersey," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. "Working together with Rutgers University and the Environmental Protection Agency, this program will provide us with another tool in our ongoing work to protect New Jersey's water resources."

"This project brings together basic science, mission oriented research and social sciences to resolve a pressing environmental issue," said Dr. Keith Cooper, Dean of Cook College. "We are poised to bring the vast expertise of Rutgers, Cornell and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to demonstrate that you can have a human-friendly environment in our nation's most densely populated state. We are dealing today with the problems the rest of the nation will deal with tomorrow."

This project, led by Rutgers, Cornell and DEP will involve a number of partners, including the Passaic River Basin Alliance, the New Jersey Association of Environmental Authorities the New Jersey League of Municipalities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. A unique aspect of the proposal is the opportunity for point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, to trade credits with a non-point source such as suburban communities or farms where rainwater washes nutrients into local waterways. The partners will collaborate to develop a system that rewards facilities like sewage treatment plants for reducing the amount of phosphorous they discharge into the upper Passaic. Too much phosphorous leads to poor water quality due to excessive algal blooms that use up oxygen needed by fish and aquatic life.

With this program, facilities that reduce their discharges of these nutrients can earn credits, which can be sold to other facilities in the Passaic River Basin. The trading program will reduce pollutants because total amounts will be limited to meet the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of phosphorous. TMDLs establish the amount of pollution a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. In addition to ensuring that the environmental goals are met, partners will evaluate the economic benefit of a credit trading program. The coalition will come up with multiple benefits that are economically feasible ways to achieve pollution reduction in this critical watershed.

The non-tidal portion of the Passaic River watershed is 803 square miles and impacts the lives of an estimated two million people in New Jersey. There are also 23 reservoirs in the non-tidal portion of this watershed. There are many sources of nutrient pollution, such as discharges from wastewater treatment plants and run-off from home use of lawn care and other chemicals. These discharges pose a serious risk to the water quality of the rivers, lakes and reservoirs within the watershed.

Earlier today, EPA Administrator Michael O. Leavitt announced thirteen other winners of EPA's 2004 Targeted Watershed grants, totaling over $15 million nationwide for important watershed preservation projects.