The SWQS establish designated uses (e.g., drinking water supply, recreation, etc.) to the State's surface waters, classify surface waters based on those uses (e.g. FW1, FW2-TP, etc.), and set water quality criteria that protect the designated uses for each water classification.
The SWQS contain various policies for protecting water quality, including general, technical, antidegradation, nutrients, and mixing zones. The SWQS also contain procedures for establishing and modifying water quality-based effluent limitations for NJPDES point sources and reclassifying specific stream segments.
Designated uses consist of existing and any potential uses that each type of surface waters can support, for example, all New Jersey freshwaters are designated for potable (drinking) water supply use. The designated uses of New Jersey waters established under the SWQS include:
• Public potable water supply (after conventional treatment);
• Fish consumption;
• Shellfish harvesting;
• Maintenance, migration, and propagation of fish;
• Agricultural and Industrial water supplies; and
• any other reasonable uses.
New Jersey’s surface water classifications identify the designated uses applicable to each surface waterbody in New Jersey, as explained below. Click on the “SWQS Maps” tab above to access digitized maps of New Jersey’s surface water classifications for all surface waters of the State.
Surface waters are classified based on the type of waterbody and the designated use of the waterbody. New Jersey has both fresh and saline waters.
Freshwaters are classified as FW1 waters (not subject to any man-made wastewater discharges) and FW2 waters (all other freshwaters except Pinelands waters). FW1 waters are nondegradation waters set aside for posterity because of their unique ecological significance. FW2 waters are further classified based on their ability to support trout, which thrive in cooler stream temperatures. Trout classifications include trout production (FW2-TP), trout maintenance (FW2-TM), and nontrout (FW2-NT).
Saline waters are classified as saline estuarine (SE) and saline coastal (SC). SE waters are further classified as SE1, SE2, and SE3 waters based on their ability to support recreation, shellfish harvesting. and warm water fish species. Waters within the Pinelands Protection and Preservation areas (which may be either freshwater or saline) are classified as Pinelands waters (PL) unless they are classified as FW1 waters.
Some waters near the coast have dual classifications (e.g., FW2-NT/SE1), which indicate that the waters change from freshwater to saline water as they drain into the estuary or ocean. Click on the “SWQS Maps” tab, above, to access digitized maps showing classifications of all surface waters of the State.
The SWQS establish antidegradation policies for all surface waters of the State (see N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.5(d)). The antidegradation policies require that all existing and designated uses shall be maintained and protected for all surface waters of the State; impaired waters must be restored to meet SWQS; and existing water quality shall be maintained. There are three tiers of antidegradation designations, which are described below. Additional information is provided in the Antidegradation/Category One Fact Sheet. Click on the “SWQS Maps” tab, above, to access digitized maps showing antidegradation designations for all surface waters of the State.
Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW): This tier of antidegradation designation is the most protective and applies to surface waters classified as FW1 waters, also known as nondegradation waters, and PL waters (Pinelands). PL waters must be maintained in their natural state. The only changes to water quality allowed in PL waters are those that restore natural water quality.
Category One (C1) Waters: This tier of antidegradation designation applies to surface waters designated as C1 waters (see N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.4). C1 waters are protected from any measurable change to existing water quality because of their exceptional ecological significance, exceptional recreational significance, exceptional water supply significance, or exceptional fisheries resources. C1 waters have more stringent antidegradation requirements than Category Two waters. Additional information about C1 waters is provided in the Antidegradation/Category One Fact Sheet.
Category Two (C2) Waters: This tier of antidegradation designation applies to surface waters designated as C2 waters (see N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.4). Some lowering of existing water quality may be allowed in C2 waters based upon a social and/or economic justification. However, all existing and designated uses must be protected in all cases and waterbodies that are generally not meeting criteria must be improved to meet water quality criteria. All waterbodies not designated as ONRW or Category One receive the Category Two antidegradation designation. Additional information is also provided in the Antidegradation/Category One Fact Sheet.
The SWQS establish the water quality criteria (see N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.14) that must be attained to support the existing and designated uses applicable to each surface water classification. Surface water quality criteria are numeric or narrative descriptions of the quality of water that will support existing and designated uses for each surface water classification. Numeric criteria establish maximum concentrations or levels of chemicals and other parameters, including toxic pollutants. Narrative criteria establish instream conditions to be attained/maintained or avoided.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) cites nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) as one of the leading causes of water quality impairment in U.S. rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Nutrients, primarily total phosphorus, have long been identified as the primary cause of over-enrichment of New Jersey 's freshwaters. New Jersey's 2014 Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report found that 31% of all freshwaters were not supporting aquatic life uses due to exceedances of the applicable numeric phosphorus criterion.
In 2001, USEPA developed ecoregion nutrient criteria under Section 304(a) of the federal Clean Water Act (see 66 F.R. 1671) and recommended that states either adopt these criteria, adopt their own numeric criteria, or develop numeric translators for narrative criteria, for all waters that contribute nutrient loadings to surface waters. The New Jersey SWQS rules at N.J.A.C. 7:9B establish nutrient policies and narrative nutrient criteria applicable to all waters. Numeric phosphorus criteria for streams and lakes are used to establish water quality-based effluent limits (WQBEL) and TMDLs.
New Jersey Nutrient Criteria Enhancement Plan
In accordance with the national EPA guidance, New Jersey developed a Nutrient Criteria Enhancement Plan in 2009 to refine the current criteria and develop new criteria where numeric limits are lacking such as coastal waters. This is to ensure that restoration efforts are based on water quality targets that are best suited to support designated uses across the various water body types. The 2009 plan was updated in 2013. A 2017 update is currently in progress.
The SWQS are developed and administered in accordance with applicable federal and state statutes and regulations, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. §1251 (also called the Clean Water Act), the Federal Regulations for Water Quality Standards, 40 C.F.R. 131, the New Jersey Water Quality Planning Act, N.J.S.A. 58:11A et. seq., and the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10A et. seq.
For more information, please contact Kimberly Cenno, Bureau Chief,
Bureau of Environmental Analysis, Restoration and Standards at (609) 633-1441.