State environmental officials on Friday declared a drought warning for the first time in more than two decades for 14 northern and coastal counties after months of low rainfall and falling reservoir levels.

The counties under the warning are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren.


The warning means the state Department of Environmental Protection will be closely managing reservoir systems by directing water transfers, and modifying the rate of flow in streams and rivers.

It also means businesses and residents should do more to conserve water use.

“The situation in our reservoir systems that serve some of the most densely populated regions of New Jersey is becoming more critical, with some systems dropping to half their capacity or less,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.

“Without knowing how much precipitation we are going to get over the fall and winter to replenish our water sources, it is vital that every resident and business step up efforts to voluntarily reduce water use in the hopes of averting a water emergency and mandatory restrictions.”

Environmental watchdogs at the New Jersey Sierra Club said Friday that the drought was a result of increased pollution, "the DEP’s failure to clean-up our waterways," and "old pipes and aging water infrastructure" leaking massive amounts of water in urban areas.

“Instead of a drought warning, this should be an alarm bell going off," Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

Earlier this week, State Climatologist Dave Robinson at New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University, told Townsquare Media that while parts of South Jersey have had a fair amount of rain over the past few months, other parts of the state remain extremely dry.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said “every gallon here and every gallon there multiplied by the millions of people that we have in the state that are in affected regions can make a big difference."

The drought warning comes a day after the DEP held a hearing to update water suppliers and the public. The warning is the first since November 2001, which subsequently became an emergency.

The DEP said it has been consulting with water suppliers for months.

Measuring water levels

The Northeast Combined Reservoir System of 12 reservoirs operated by four water suppliers have dropped to 52 percent capacity, compared to a normal of about 67 percent for this time of year.

The New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s Raritan Basin reservoirs are 25 percent below their normal storage level of 89 percent for this time of year.

The Suez-NJ system's three reservoirs for Bergen County have dropped to less than 45 percent total capacity, compared to a normal capacity of 60 percent for this time of year.

The combined storage in reservoirs operated by New Jersey American Water and the New Jersey Water Supply Authority serving portions of Monmouth and Ocean counties are 14 percent below their normal level of 86 percent for this time of year.

Groundwater in Sussex and Warren counties is rated as extremely dry while precipitation and stream flows are rated as severely dry.

Groundwater in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties is rated as moderately dry while stream flows and groundwater are rated as severely dry.

Saving water

— Let lawns go dormant.

— Turn sprinkler systems off automatic timers.

— Use a hose with a hand-held nozzle to water flowers and shrubs, or let them go dormant.

— Don't hose down pavement.

— Wash vehicles with a bucket and do not run the hose more than necessary, or use a commercial car wash that recycles water.

— Fix leaky faucets and pipes.

— Replacing toilet with a low-flow version that can save 11,000 gallons a year.

— Upgrade showerhead to low-flow versions, which can save 7,700 gallons a year.

— Upgrade your faucets or install faucet aerators, which can save 16,000 gallons a year.

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