Metedeconk Watershed

About the watershed
The Metedeconk River, which flows from the forested wetlands in its headwaters through a densely populated area, provides drinking water from ground and surface water sources to about 100,000 homes in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, New Jersey. Ground and surface waters are closely linked, with 80 percent of the rivers baseflow coming from groundwater.

In general, over 50 percent of the watershed is presently classified as open space and 27 percent as residential. Commercial and industrial uses represent about 4 percent of the land. Brick is the most developed of the townships in the watershed with only 18 percent open space, and Wall, Freehold and Jackson (all over 50% open space) have the least development.

About 53 percent of the land is wetland, much of which is in the headwaters. According to 1995 NJ DEP land cover estimates, the watershed is about 60 percent forest and wetland (30% each), 35 percent development and 4 percent agriculture, with total impervious cover at 17 percent. The percent of developed land has likely increased since 1995, with a resulting loss of forests and wetlands. Research in watersheds around the country has shown that if impervious cover exceeds 10 percent or if forest cover declines below 75 percent there can be a measurable decline in water quality.

Urbanization has led to the loss of forests and small wetlands across the watershed. With only 7 percent of the watershed permanently protected, growth will continue to be at the expense of critical forests and wetlands. Most of the new development in the central and eastern portion of the watershed has occurred on relatively small patches of forest, barren lands, or wetlands that were already surrounded by residential, commercial, and industrial land. By contrast, new residential subdivisions in the western portion of the watershed have converted larger areas of forest and farm land into low and medium density house lots.

Challenges
The Metedeconk River, which flows from forested wetlands in the headwaters through densely populated communities, provides drinking water to about 100,000 homes in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, New Jersey. Led by the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority (BTMUA), the local committee, consisting of representatives from both counties, are searching for solutions that address their stormwater management and land protection challenges.

Successes
Based on the Exchange Team's top recommendation to create an inter-jurisdictional forum for watershed planning and stormwater management, the BTMUA and other members of the local committee are conducting outreach to elected officials throughout the watershed.

The focus of the outreach has been to build commitment to creating a regional stormwater management plan and to securing state designation as a Category I watershed. The Category I designation establishes watershed-wide stream buffers and a requirement that new development not degrade streams.It also enhances the likelihood that open space preservation funds will be allocated to the watershed. With only 7 percent of the watershed currently protected, TPL is working with New Jersey's "Green Acres" program and others to purchase land in critical areas of the watershed identified by the GIS analysis, with one property currently under option.

Threats to Source Water
Water quality in the Metedeconk River is generally of high quality. However, due to the short flow paths from groundwater recharge areas to the river, the river is vulnerable to impacts from local sources of groundwater pollution, causing water quality to vary significantly from location to location. Because ground and surface water supplies are so closely related in the Metedeconk, drinking water supplies must be managed as one interconnected resource.

As development spreads into source areas, BTMUA and other suppliers will increasingly draw water from a rapidly developing watershed, where land use controls to protect water quality have been limited. The rate of development and its impact on stormwater runoff will increasingly challenge water supply management.

GIS Analysis
The GIS analysis was conducted using a new GIS Mapping Methodology. The conservation priority index overlay clearly shows the importance of the forest and wetland areas in the western portion of the watershed as well as riparian forests and wetlands throughout the system. The fragmented nature of forests in the middle and lower reaches argues for conserving what remains while trying to enhance its functional value. This point is discussed in the report attached below.

The restoration priority index overlay shows the scattered nature of agriculture in the watershed and the potential need for riparian forest restoration and other nonpoint source pollution control measures.

The stormwater management priority index overlay shows the substantial challenges associated with stormwater management and nonpoint source pollution mitigation in the middle and lower reaches.

Financing Opportunities

  • Seek passage of new local open space taxes or increase existing open space taxes..
  • Create a stormwater utility to pay for and implement stormwater management, or create a watershed protection rate surcharge through the drinking water utility.
  • Advocate for strong statewide conservation funding.
  • Maintain or expand New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust's (NJEIT) land conservation funding.

Implementation
In January, 2004, Brick Township, Brick MUA and Ocean and Monmouth Counties hosted a press conference to announce the findings and recommendations of the Stewardship Exchange Team. The press conference was designed to highlight the Exchange Team's top recommendation - the formation of an inter-jurisdictional forum for watershed management and protection -- and was timed to support Brick MUA's efforts to recruit the support and participation of elected officials in the seven townships in the watershed.

The Local Steering Committee prioritized the following Exchange Team Recommendations for implementation:

  • Formation of an inter-jurisdictional forum for watershed and stormwater management.
  • Creation of a regional Stormwater Management Plan, in cooperation with the seven townships in the watershed, to meet NJ's new Phase II stormwater rules.
  • State designation of the Metedeconk River as a Category I watershed, which will require that any new development in the watershed meet the state's strict anti-degradation standards for drinking water watersheds.
  • Protection of critical forests and wetlands in the watershed.