New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, has a growing stormwater infrastructure and management problem.

With much of the Garden State covered with asphalt and other impervious surfaces, every time it rains, a huge volume of water goes rushing into storm water drains.

“It’s a problem because it erodes stream banks, puts contaminants that are on the parking lot, heavy metals, oils into the surface water. It’s really bad stuff,” said New Jersey State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex).

He’s pushing a plan to have Garden State municipalities, counties and certain authorities establish and operate stormwater utilities to fix and modernize stormwater facilities.

Smith said one glaring example of older stormwater systems that need to be upgraded is in the Barnegat Bay.

“That’s where there’s more than 2,000 non-functional stormwater basins, and one of the reasons the Barnegat Bay has environmental problems is because of those non-functioning stormwater basins," he said.

He said once established, stormwater utilities would collect fees from property owners that have large impervious surfaces, like office parks and shopping centers.

Smith said 41 states already use similar mechanisms, and there are more than 1,600 stormwater utilities nationwide, but "of course New Jersey doesn't have it.”

He said when many parking lots and other surfaces were first built decades ago, there were no real effective stormwater standards in place, so water that collected pollution was simply diverted into a stormwater drain and then released into nearby streams or bays.

He said newer standards call for stormwater to be routed back to the soil because “actually soil is one of the best filters known to science.”

He said sewage treatment plants in New Jersey have been upgraded and industrial pollution controls are continually being tightened but “stormwater is a real serious problem to the environment."

"In fact it’s the last frontier in water pollution," he said. "It’s the last thing we really have to address, which we’re not addressing.”

A stormwater utility joint state Senate and Assembly public hearing is scheduled to take place next month.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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