New Jersey's Clean Water Could be Threatened by Natural Gas Pipeline Project

(3BL/JustMeans) Most people don’t think about the water that comes from their taps unless theirs is not clean. There is a region in New Jersey that provides drinking water for 5.4 million people, or half of the state’s residents. Called the Highlands Region, it consists of over 800,000 acres of pristine wilderness, and provides about 379 million gallons of water daily.

New Jersey became one of the first states to require public water to be tested for a number of contaminants found in drinking water in the 1980s. The garden state even created a Drinking Water Quality Institute to create maximum levels for substances known to be harmful to human health. But now, a natural gas pipeline project might harm the state’s drinking water.

In March, several environmental groups sent a letter asking the state Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny  approval for the application by the Transcontinental Pipeline Company (Transcol) to build the Garden State Expansion (GSE) project in New Jersey. The $116 million project would expand natural gas by creating a pipeline that goes right through parts of the Highlands. One of the concerns that New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Pinelands Preservation Alliance expressed in their letter to the Commission is that the proposed route of the pipeline violates “water quality protections because it will run through multiple areas of groundwater contamination, including two Superfund sites.”

The Sierra Club is also concerned about the pipeline project which is actually part of a bigger project that includes several other natural gas pipelines. However, the Garden State Expansion project itself will cause pollution problems for the area, contends the environmental group. Compressor stations that are part of the project will create both air and water pollution through its release of toxic chemicals. Compressor stations release a number of toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and propane.

Forest watersheds like the New Jersey Highlands are a big source of drinking water. About one-third of the world’s 105 largest cities get a significant part of their drinking water from protected forest watersheds. In the northeastern and midwestern, U.S. forests supply drinking water for over 52 million people.

It is far more cost-efficient to protect forest watersheds in the first place rather than treating them after they are contaminated. Billions of dollars are spent globally to treat water supplies contaminated by land development. Every 10 percent increase in forest cover in a water source area decreased water treatment costs by about 20 percent, a study by the Trust for Public Land and the American Water Works Association found. Treatment costs level off when forest cover is 70 to 100 percent, according to the study.

Another study, published in 2009. identified watersheds throughout the northeast and midwest that supply large amounts of drinking water and need to be protected from forest clearing and land development. One of the areas identified was the New Jersey Highlands region.

Photo: Flickr/Steven Reynolds