In March 2020, NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) published the long-awaited revisions to the New Jersey Stormwater Management Rule (N.J.A.C. 7:8), which now requires the use of green infrastructure. But what do these updates actually mean for New Jersey’s stormwater infrastructure?
At Princeton Hydro, we recognize the benefit of green infrastructure and we’ve been incorporating it into our engineering designs since before the term was regularly used in the stormwater lexicon. We’ve been following the rule amendments very closely, so we’ve got the inside scoop on how to interpret these new updates. In this blog, we’ll break down the complexities and changes to help you understand what’s really going on.
What is Green Infrastructure?
So, let’s start with what green infrastructure actually is in a general sense. Many people think of green infrastructure solely as a way to classify certain stormwater best management practices, or BMPs, but in reality, it goes much deeper than that. Green infrastructure is an approach to engineering design that emphasizes the use of natural processes. Examples include green roofs, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, vegetated bioswales, and living shorelines. In general, approaching environmental management from this lens can help reduce costs and negative impacts to our ecosystems. The benefit to using green infrastructure over structural grey infrastructure is that these living BMPs are incredibly resilient. Being living systems, green infrastructure BMPs help decrease stormwater volume, as soil and vegetation naturally retain and evapotranspire water. Afterall, those natural processes have successfully worked for billions of years, so why not mimic them in our design?
In addition to effectively managing stormwater, green infrastructure has other added benefits such as reducing the heat island effect, reducing energy use, removing pollutants from the air, beautifying public spaces, and even increasing property value. Though the actual practice of green infrastructure may seem new and innovative, the concept has been around for decades.
So now, let’s get to the updated regulations. The biggest takeaway from this update is that green infrastructure is now required to meet the three performance criteria that NJDEP sets forth for stormwater management. The amendments to the rule give definitions of green infrastructure as it applies to stormwater management. The rule defines green infrastructure as follows:
“‘Green Infrastructure’ means a stormwater management measure that manages stormwater close to its source by:
Treating stormwater runoff through infiltration into subsoil;
Treating stormwater runoff through filtration by vegetation or soil; or
Storing stormwater runoff for reuse.”
NJDEP evaluates stormwater management compliance through three basic performance metrics: (1) groundwater recharge, (2) water quality, and (3) peak flow control. While these metrics have remained relatively unchanged under the amended rule, the requirements for meeting them have been modified to include green infrastructure. The pre-existing rule required that major developments incorporate nonstructural stormwater management BMPs/strategies to the “maximum extent practicable” to meet their criteria. The amended rule not only gives specific suggestions for the kind of BMPs it’s looking for by adding a definition of green infrastructure, but it also makes those BMPs/strategies a requirement for compliance with the rule’s minimum standards.
The rule also includes tables outlining/summarizing the application of each type of stormwater BMP. One of the biggest changes here is that some of those BMPs have drainage area limitations, which could pose new challenges in the design process.
As stated above, the rule defines green infrastructure as, “a stormwater management measure that manages stormwater close to its source.” This is where those drainage area limitations come into play. Dry wells have a one acre drainage area limitation, which is not new, however, pervious pavement has a 3:1 ratio requirement, meaning that the water flowing over standard pavement, or impervious surfaces, should not be more than three times greater than the area of the pervious pavement.
Likewise, in the amended rule, BMPs like bioretention systems, have a drainage area limitation of 2.5 acres. The addition of this requirement will require designers to spread BMPs out throughout their site, instead of simply including one large structural BMP in a single location on the site. This approach decentralizes and distributes BMPs, enabling more stormwater to infiltrate into the ground, rather than runoff. Because this method more clostely mimics the natural water cycle, it is expected to foster better long-term performance of the BMPs.
This 2.5-acre drainage area limitation is going to effect stormwater design in that it will lead to BMP decentralization. So, project sites will likely have numerous smaller BMPs that will be distributed throughout the area, as opposed to having one large basin at the bottom of the site. This applies, in particular, to large scale commercial and residential projects, as the updated rule will discourage, and in most cases actually not allow, for the implementation of one large basin at the bottom of the site, which currently is common practice in large-scale development design.
Motor Vehicle Surfaces
Another update to the rule is that motor vehicle surfaces are now incorporated into the definition of major development, which was further clarified and defined as:
“Any individual ‘development,’ as well as multiple developments that individually or collectively result in:
The disturbance of one or more acres of land since February 2, 2004;
The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated impervious surface” since February 2, 2004;
The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated motor vehicle surface” since March 2,2021; or
A combination of 2 and 3 above that totals an area of one-quarter acre or more. The same surface shall not be counted twice when determining if the combination area equals one quarter acre or more.”
The amended rule requires these motor vehicle surfaces to have 80% total suspended solids (TSS) removal, in order to maintain water quality. These surfaces include standard pavement drive/parking areas and gravel and dirt drive/parking areas, according to the rule. However, the rule does not require water quality control for runoff from other impervious surfaces that are not traveled by automobiles, such as rooftops and sidewalks, or other paved walkway areas.
Revisions to BMP Manual
In addition to the changes made to the actual rule, NJDEP released an updated draft of Chapters 5, 12, 13, and Appendix D of the NJ Stormwater BMP Manual, which is currently open for public comment. Chapter 5 regards Stormwater Management and Quantity and Quality Standards and Computations and Chapter 12 regards Soil Testing Criteria. The biggest update to the manual is the addition of the recently finalized Chapter 13: Groundwater Table Hydraulic Impact Assessments for Infiltration BMPs, which requires design engineers to assess the hydraulic impact on the groundwater table to avoid adverse impacts such as surficial ponding, flooding of basements, interference with sewage disposal systems, and interference with the proper functioning of the BMP itself. The addition of this chapter will ensure that these issues are minimized, helping to improve the state’s stormwater management practices overall.
What does this all mean for New Jersey Municipalities?
New Jersey municipalities will need to comply with the new standards, as the NJ Stormwater Management Rule represents the minimum requirements for stormwater control ordinances. The law states that municipalities must update their ordinances by March 2, 2021. To make this transition a bit smoother, NJDEP has released a revised model ordinance in Appendix D of the NJ Stormwater BMP Manual to act as a sample for municipalities to follow when adopting these new regulations. Similar to before, municipalities do have the ability to require stricter stormwater performance metrics, but the criteria outlined in the rule are the minimum that must be met under the new regulations.
For more information on the updates to the stormwater regulations, you can check out an informational webinar (below) hosted by NJ-AWRA and The Watershed Institute. This webinar includes three presentations by New Jersey stormwater experts, including our Director of Stormwater Management & Green Infrastructure, Dr. Clay Emerson, PE, CFM.