Despite the super cold weather, we have been hard at work with a new group of Water Champions at Ocean City High School – getting the next generation involved in securing a sustainable future for South Jersey’s water supply! With the new school year and a new incoming administration in the governor’s office, we have been thinking a lot about how we can all work together to kickstart that new sustainable future. Our guidebook in this quest recently has been the wealth of data contained in the New Jersey Water Supply Plan 2017-2022, published this October by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. To give you a quick snapshot, here is a figure from the report which estimates remaining water availability in New Jersey by watershed:
If we want to take action to secure our water, there are two key terms to keep in mind: consumptive and depletive water use. Consumptive water use refers to water that is lost to evaporation, transpiration, incorporation into a product, or is otherwise used up. Limiting consumptive water use will require the same strategies for water conservation that we often talk about in this space – more efficient indoor fixtures, smart irrigation meters, rain water harvesting, and fixing leaks. We’ll be talking more about some of the policy changes that could be made by the incoming administration in a future blog post.
Depletive water use, on the other hand, refers to water that is discharged into a different watershed than where it came from. Usually in our area this refers to water that goes into the sewer, to a water treatment plant, and then is dumped into the ocean. If we zoom into Cape May and the Great Egg Harbor Watersheds, which Ocean City straddles, 65% of Cape May’s wastewater and 95% of Great Egg Harbor wastewater ends up in saline surface water sources, aka tidal streams, bays, and the ocean. Ideally, the water is treated enough so that pollution is not a major concern, but freshwater dumped into the ocean is no longer available for us to use, depleting our supplies. In order to avoid depletive use, two potential strategies are available. One is to install greywater reuse systems, which provide a second life for wastewater by using it for things like non-agricultural irrigation. “Greywater” refers to wastewater that has been treated, but not necessarily to the standard of potable water. This is also called “reclaimed water for beneficial reuse” and is singled out in NJ’s Water Supply Plan as a potential drought-mitigation and long-term strategy for highly consumptive, non-potable purposes. Some modern, sustainable houses have their own internal greywater treatment and reuse system that can be used for things like flushing toilets.
Middle Township in Cape May County uses greywater to irrigate some of the municipal-owned fields. If you are ever driving by the municipal buildings across the Garden State Parkway from the Cape May County Zoo and notice the purple fire hydrants, that’s where their greywater goes! More projects like that could go a long way towards limiting our depletive water use.
Coastal areas in Cape May and Atlantic Counties, especially the barrier islands with the wild seasonal fluctuations in water use that come with being a summer tourist destination, could potentially be perfect candidates for such a strategy if they could pump it further inland. We are hoping to put together a small field trip for the Water Champions Interns to see the Ocean City Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant so they can get a sense for the whole life cycle of water use – from the aquifer, to its (hopefully efficient) use, to its treatment and disposal (although reuse would be better!).