In Brief

New flood protection rules inch toward adoption, with public meetings set

By: - October 17, 2022 6:49 am

An aerial view of flooded streets in Bound Brook resulting from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection)

After mounting pressure from environmentalists, the state Department of Environmental Protection has revived stalled plans to update decades-old flood maps — used by developers in siting and design decisions — that don’t reflect how climate change has worsened flooding.

The department will hold two public meetings this week about flood threats from rivers and streams and a new “inland flood protection rule” that would define the state’s most at-risk areas and set standards developers and municipalities must follow to ensure new construction and redevelopment can withstand current and future rainfall, runoff, and flooding.

The virtual meetings are scheduled for 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday (register here) and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday (register here).

Environmentalists called the meetings “a good sign,” but said more frequent and catastrophic storms demand urgency in implementing new rules.

“The DEP did two years of extensive stakeholdering and needs to adopt the rules as soon as possible to protect lives, communities, the economy, and the environment,” said Jennifer Coffey of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

Mike Pisauro, policy director of the Watershed Institute, pointed out that it’s been almost three years since Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order requiring regulatory reforms statewide to adapt to climate change, which included directing the Department of Environmental Protection to update land use and stormwater planning and permitting. Under the order, updated rules should have been in place by January 2022.

“We haven’t even got to the proposal stage,” Pisauro said.

Doug O’Malley is the director of Environment New Jersey.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” O’Malley agreed. “When will the rules be proposed? And for that matter, how strong will the rules be?”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association has opposed a change in rules, warning of “dire economic consequences on potentially thousands of projects.”

The state’s current flood maps are based on precipitation data last updated in 1999.

But extreme weather has become more frequent and severe in the two decades since then, including two of New Jersey’s deadliest, costliest storms — Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Ida last year.

Precipitation around the state is 2.5% to 10% higher now than in 1999 and is expected to rise through the end of this century, according to state-funded studies released last November.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.