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new jersey department of environmental protection  


Living with the Future in Mind
Goals and Indicators for New Jersey's Quality of Life
First Annual Update to the Sustainable State Project Report 2000

Indicator 32

Additional  Natural and Ecological Integrity  Indicators

30 - Freshwater Wetlands

31 - Nesting Water Birds

33 - Marine Water Quality

River Health/ Dissolved Oxygen

Percent of testing stations reporting acceptable levels of dissolved oxygen: Little recent change

  Things to think about 

New Jersey’s great cities, including Trenton, Paterson, Newark, Camden, Jersey City, and New Brunswick, were located intentionally on rivers. Each of these distressed cities has a distressed river running through it. Many of the best revitalization efforts are focusing on riverfront restoration.

River levels of dissolved oxygen have improved dramatically in New Jersey over the last 20 years due to improvements in wastewater treatment. Continued improvement will require improved management of nonpoint source runoff from suburban development and farming.

The pollution that causes eutrophication is usually not toxic pollution. Ordinary nutrients are among the substances that feed the algae and bacteria that use up the dissolved oxygen. For example, fertilized suburban lawns contribute to the excessive nutrients that pollute New Jersey’s water.

Another method of assessing the health of the aquatic life in New Jersey’s rivers had shown that approximately one-third of the tested rivers are not stressed, approximately one-half are moderately stressed, and 12 percent are severely stressed. Recent resampling (1997-1999) of many of these rivers has shown little change in most retested areas.


Our river ecosystems survive only if they have enough dissolved oxygen. When large quantities of fertilizers and other pollution run off from our farms, cities and roads, then algae and bacteria grow quickly in our rivers and use up the oxygen. This process is known as "eutrophication." Severe eutrophication can kill fish and other species and change the ecological balance of rivers.


Our rivers are part of the state’s water system, from which we draw much of our drinking water. Our state has significant industries that depend on healthy rivers for tourism and for fishing. Some of the ocean fish harvested by New Jersey businesses are spawned and hatched in our rivers. Property values are higher adjacent to healthy bodies of water.


Rivers are particularly important ecosystems. They matter not only to a wide range of freshwater fish and aquatic species, but also to many birds and insects and to ocean fish that spend parts of their lives in freshwater. River, or riparian, habitat is also among the most sensitive and the first to show damage from pollution and disturbance.


Healthy rivers provide valuable recreation to those who have access. They bring charm and pride to the communities they run through. Sadly, the poorest and most neglected communities may have the most polluted rivers.

Knowledge Gaps

The dissolved oxygen indicator does not tell us everything about river quality. In addition, relatively insignificant changes in the amount of oxygen can occasionally cause a station to drop below acceptable levels, yet the river may not truly be impaired. It is necessary to have data on river health that are consistently collected and carefully analyzed to provide a complete picture of water quality and biological health.

Note: See the Technical Appendix for a change in this indicator since the 1999 Sustainable State Project Report.

Data Source: NJ Department of Environmental Protection

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Copyright © State of New Jersey, 1996-2006
Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Modified: May 1, 2007

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