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  Bureau of Environmental Analysis, Restoration and Standards
Surface Water Quality Standards
Qualifications and Data Needs to Support Category One Upgrades

The Surface Water Quality Standards require that waters must exhibit exceptional ecological significance, exceptional fisheries resources, or exceptional water supply significance to warrant the enhanced protections afforded by an upgrade to the Category One antidegradation designation. The qualifications and data needs required for consideration of a Category One upgrade are summarized below.

  • Qualifications:

    1. Suitable habitat and documented occurrence of specific, aquatic-dependant endangered and threatened species; or
    2. an exceptional aquatic community that is not impaired; and possesses at least two of the following four characteristics:
      • optimal stream habitat;
      • excellent fish community;
      • compliance with specific surface water quality criteria; or
      • low percentage of impervious surface in the subwatershed

  • Data needs:

    1. Endangered or Threatened Species. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon endangered or threatened (E&T) species, waters must have suitable habitat to support Bog Turtle and several freshwater mussels, including:  Brook Floater, Dwarf Wedgemussel, Eastern Pondmussel, Eastern Lampmussel, Green Floater, and/or Triangle Floater; as well as documented occurrence(s) of at least one of these species verified by the Department. The occurrence of endangered or threatened species is verified by the Department and entered into the Natural Heritage Database. The Natural Heritage Database is a continuously updated inventory of rare plants and animal species and representative ecological communities in New Jersey. The Database contains information collected by the Department's Office of Natural Lands Management on rare plants, animals, and ecological communities as well as data on rare animals provided by the Department's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Occurrence information from the Natural Heritage Database is used by the Department to develop maps for the Landscape Project. The Landscape Project maps delineate the presence of documented habitat for endangered, threatened, and priority nongame species. Information on documented occurrences, as well as locations of suitable habitat as described in the Landscape Project maps, is used by the Department to determine if candidate waters support endangered or threatened species and thus qualify for Category One designation.

    2. Exceptional Aquatic Community. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters must exhibit no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community as measured by the Department's Rapid Bioassessment Protocol. Using this protocol, the results must indicate no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community. A benthic macroinvertebrate community that is not impaired is characterized by a diverse macroinvertebrate population, balanced taxa groups (i.e., no taxa are overly dominant), and a good representation of pollution-intolerant taxa. If the benthic macroinvertebrate results indicate an impaired condition, no further evaluation will be conducted and the waterbody will not qualify for Category One designation. The Department samples over 800 stations for benthic macroinvertebrates and in-stream habitat. Streams are sampled once every five years on a rotating basin schedule. A detailed description of the biological monitoring program and copies of data reports are available on the Department's Web site at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bfbm. For waters where the Department has not sampled, data generated by other groups may be considered to support a Category One upgrade provided that the information has been or will be submitted pursuant to the Department's data solicitation notice for the development of New Jersey's biennial Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report (Integrated Report). Data must meet the applicable data quality requirements and be publicly available and uploaded into one of the following data repositories: Water Quality Data Exchange (WQDE), USEPA STORET/WQX or Central Data Exchange (CDX), or USGS National Water Information System (NWIS).

    3. Optimal habitat. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also contain optimal stream habitat as measured by the Department's Stream Habitat Assessment. An optimal habitat is identified by a variety of habitats within the stream, stable banks with little siltation or channelization, a variety of velocities and stream depths, a riparian zone covered by native vegetation where plants are allowed to grow naturally, and an unimpacted riparian zone. If the habitat assessment indicates a result less than optimal, then other ecological factors are necessary to support upgrading candidate waters to a Category One designation.

    4. Excellent fish community. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also contain an excellent fish community as measured by the Fish Index of Biotic Integrity (FIBI). The Department's Water Monitoring and Standards Program, in cooperation with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, developed the FIBI to evaluate the fish community, a good ecological indicator of the environmental health of a waterbody. FIBI is based upon a statistical evaluation of fish species observed at selected stream stations and measures the health of a stream based on multiple attributes of the resident fish assemblage. Fish assemblages generally include a range of species that represent a variety of trophic levels (omnivores, herbivores, insectivores, planktivores, piscivores). Fish tend to integrate effects of lower trophic levels; thus, fish assemblage structure is reflective of integrated environmental health. As a result of a multi-metric analysis, stations are ranked and classified as excellent, good, fair, or poor.  An excellent FIBI rating is assigned to a waterbody with minimal human disturbance, with regionally expected species for the habitat and stream size, pollution intolerant families, and a balanced trophic structure. If the FIBI represents something less than excellent conditions, then other ecological factors are necessary to support the Category One designation.Fish are good indicators of long-term stream health and broad habitat conditions because they are relatively long-lived and mobile. A detailed description of the FIBI monitoring program and copies of reports are available from the Department's Web site at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bfbm/fishibi.html.

    5. Surface water quality data. To qualify for exceptional ecological significance based upon an exceptional aquatic community, waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community may also demonstrate compliance with aquatic life criteria pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.14(d) for dissolved oxygen, temperature, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids. These parameters are important to maintaining healthy and balanced aquatic life and are readily monitored. Because of their importance, the Department has determined that the aquatic life criteria must be met for all of these parameters to support upgrading candidate waters to a Category One designation.

    6. Impervious surface. Waters with no impairment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community that are located within a HUC14 subwatershed with a very low percentage of impervious surface may also qualify as an exceptional aquatic community. Impervious surface must be two percent or less for HUC14 subwatersheds with drainage areas less than five square miles. For HUC14 subwatersheds with drainage areas greater than five square miles, the impervious surface must be 10 percent or less. Impervious surfaces are identified largely, but not exclusively, as roadways, parking lots, and rooftops. Impervious surfaces impede the infiltration of rainfall into the soil and, by doing so, increase the amount of stormwater runoff from the land. Adverse impacts associated with increasing amounts of impervious surface typically include: higher peak stream flows resulting in increased stream bank erosion, channel enlargement, and sediment production; lower stream base flows resulting in biological impairment and poor aquatic community integrity; elevated stream temperatures due to runoff from heated pavement and rooftops; and the introduction of a variety of pollutants into the receiving waterbody, including petroleum products, metals, nutrients, pesticides, and herbicides. Impervious surface data is available in the Department's land use/land cover data layer, which can be downloaded from the Department's GIS Web site at http://www.nj.gov/dep/gis/.
  • Qualifications: Water supply systems that serve a population greater than 100,000; including any reservoirs and their natural tributaries.

  • Data needs: Information on water supply systems, including reservoirs and their tributaries, can be obtained from the Division of Water Supply and Geoscience.
  • Qualifications:

    1. Waters classified as FW2(TP) and confirmed to support trout production; or
    2. Waters approved for unrestricted shellfish harvest.

  • Data needs:

    1. Trout Production. The Department developed a classification system for trout waters that utilizes the Incidence of Occurrence (I.O.) of trout and other fish species associated with trout, based on data from a statewide survey of freshwater streams. Stream sampling data are used by the Department to determine whether FW2 waters should be classified as trout production, trout maintenance, or nontrout. FW2-Trout Production (FW2-TP) Waters are waters where trout can complete their life cycle, including reproduction, in a natural habitat. When waters are surveyed and found to have naturally-reproduced trout in their first year of life (young of the year, or "YOY"), such waters are classified as trout production waters ("Freshwater 2-Trout Production", or "FW2-TP"). When adult trout are found and YOY trout are absent, the classification of the stream as trout maintenance (FW2-TM) or nontrout (FW2-NT) depends upon the stream's total fish population. To qualify as an exceptional fisheries resource, waters must be classified as FW2-TP waters and confirmed by the Department as supporting trout production.

    2. Shellfish Harvesting. Shellfish harvest waters are waters classified by the Department pursuant to the Shellfish Growing Water Classification rules at N.J.A.C. 7:12. Shellfish classifications are based on water quality monitoring conducted by the Department's Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring. Depending on monitoring results, shellfish waters are classified as unrestricted harvest, special restricted, seasonal, or prohibited. Definitions of these classifications are available on the Department's Web site at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wmm/bmw/info01.htm. The official adopted Shellfish Classification Maps should be referenced for determining exact locations of the boundaries of these classified areas. The Department has determined that only waters classified as unrestricted shellfish harvest areas are considered to be exceptional fisheries resources and qualify for upgrade to Category One designation.
    For more information, please contact the Bureau of Environmental Analysis, Restoration and Standards at (609) 633-1441.

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