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Reaching Out to Improve Stormwater in New Jersey

“We really used the results of that survey to dictate the way in which we offered workshops and hands-on trainings from that point on.”
Lisa Auermuller,
Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve

When federal regulations compelled smaller municipalities to begin managing stormwater runoff and communicating with the public about their efforts, the state of New Jersey passed legislation making the rules in that state even more stringent. As local governments were scrambling to fulfill requirements, New Jersey coastal resource managers reached out to local officials with training, education, and examples that have resulted in positive on-the-ground changes.

“We really felt that it was important to educate right down at the local level,” says Lisa Auermuller, watershed coordinator for the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. “Evaluation results showed that we were really effective and provided needed information at a time when municipalities were grasping for any help they could get.”

The reserve provided outreach to local governments by offering assistance through its Coastal Training Program, developing a model ordinance, piloting an “Adopt-A-Storm Drain” program, publishing a stormwater newsletter, and much more.

“We were held up as a model for other counties in the state for how to implement the new stormwater management rules,” Auermuller says.

Documented Problems

While water quality and quantity are issues being addressed by coastal resource managers around the country, Auermuller says that nonpoint source pollution is of particular concern for managers at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve, which encompasses about 115,000 acres in southeastern New Jersey and includes highly urbanized terrestrial, wetland, and aquatic habitats within the Mullica River-Great Bay ecosystem.

“We definitely have hard data showing multiple effects of eutrophication in the bay,” says Auermuller, which she explains is the dissolved nutrients that wash into the estuary in stormwater, stimulating the growth of aquatic plant life. One result is the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, which is harmful to aquatic plant and animal life.

For example, she notes that “over 15 years there has been an 85 percent decline of hard clams in an area that used to be known as ‘Clam Town.’ Over the past 5 years, we have seen a significant decline of seagrass in Barnegat Bay, and an increase in brown tide blooms that exacerbate the seagrass loss by causing shading effects and other problems.”

Perfect Timing

Phase II of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stormwater program requires smaller municipalities, construction sites, and urban areas adjacent to municipalities to develop, implement, and evaluate a stormwater management program, and submit periodic reports.

In 2004, the State of New Jersey made its regulations even more stringent than federal rules when legislators passed the Municipal Stormwater Regulation Program.

“Coincidentally, that was the same year that the [Jacques Cousteau] Coastal Training Program reached full approval,” Auermuller says. “Municipalities were really feeling the crunch and didn’t know where to start, and we had the science, information, and best management practices to offer them.”

She notes that each municipality makes its own decisions about how to implement the state rules. “That means that in just Ocean County, where the reserve does most of its work, there are 33 different sets of regulations in place with boundary lines that don’t make sense ecologically.”

Listening First

Before taking on stormwater outreach with the municipalities in Ocean County around Barnegat Bay, Auermuller first created an advisory committee of local, state, and academic experts on stormwater management. She then sent out a survey to determine the municipalities’ needs.

“We really used the results of that survey to dictate the way in which we offered workshops and hands-on trainings from that point on,” she says. For instance, local officials said they needed help writing stormwater management plans, so the reserve brought in state officials to sit down and show them how to do it.

In the first two years, six different Coastal Training Program workshops and opportunities for technical assistance that were focused on stormwater management were offered to municipal staff members and elected and appointed officials.

Rechecking the Pulse

In 2005, Auermuller conducted a second survey to “recheck the pulse and see at this point where local officials needed help. We found that people were still in need of the public outreach portion of the stormwater requirements.”

The reserve created an information display that municipalities could use for education at local fairs and festivals, and provided education materials for officials to hand out. They also took officials on trips to see sites that demonstrated stormwater best management practices.

“It’s one thing to talk about in theory,” Auermuller says. “It’s another to see them in place on the ground.”

A model stormwater ordinance was created and a stormwater newsletter produced. The reserve also helped pilot an Adopt-A-Storm Drain program in three municipalities, where numbered medallions were placed on storm drains and nearby residents could “adopt” them and take responsibility for reporting any problems to city officials.

Measuring Effectiveness

In 2007, Auermuller conducted a third evaluation to determine how effective the reserve’s stormwater outreach efforts had been. The results showed that the outreach had paid off in a number of on-the-ground applications, including a fourth community initiating an Adopt-A-Storm Drain program and communities adopting regular storm-drain maintenance and implementing other best management practices.

One of the results that surprised Auermuller was that local officials appreciated the Coastal Training Program events not only for the information that they received, but also as key opportunities to share lessons learned with other local officials in the area.

“They had never been brought together for any reason before,” she says. “Without that evaluation, we would never have known that they considered that face time as one of the most useful aspects.”

As a result, specific networking times are now being scheduled in all the reserve’s Coastal Training Program activities. Another outcome, Auermuller says, is that the reserve is working with many of the same local officials to address climate change and sea level rise.

She adds, “It’s very gratifying to know that outreach efforts with a certain subset really pays off over time. We’re helping implement changes that hopefully will pay off in the health of the estuarine system.”


For more information on the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve’s stormwater outreach efforts, go to www.jcnerr.org/education/coastaltraining/ and click Stormwater & Wastewater. You may also contact Lisa Auermuller at (609) 812-0649, ext. 204, or auermull@marine.rutgers.edu.

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