The Importance of Reducing Runoff Pollution to Create Multiple Community Benefits in Underserved New Jersey Communities
Few local governments or their consultants think about beginning community development initiatives around the restoration of their waterways. Having the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, Raritan Bay and Atlantic Ocean as its borders, the urbanization of New Jersey has had significant impacts on area water bodies, including the availability of potable water in many of the State’s municipalities. To help meet the challenges stemming from the collision between urbanization and the viability of the State’s watersheds, financial assistance is available through the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s (EPA) Urban Waters Program to restore these environmental and assets which can also play critical roles in promoting economic growth and development.
As stormwater and snowmelt runoff moves it picks up trash, fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, pet waste and other pollutants. This polluted runoff may go into storm drains or ditches, enter pipes and eventually flow into ponds, streams, rivers, lakes and coastal waters. In some communities, polluted runoff may also flow over land directly into the nearest urban waterbody.
The Urban Waters Program helps local municipalities and their affiliate organizations tackle these costly and often complex undertakings. Projects considered and ultimately funded by the EPA address urban runoff pollution through diverse partnerships that produce multiple community benefits, with particular preference to those populations and municipalities currently underserved. Through support from this funding source, the EPA is interested in expanding municipal abilities to engage in activities that improve water quality while also advancing local priorities, including community and economic development.
The Urban Waters Program began in 2012 and has already awarded approximately $5.3 million in Urban Waters Small Grants to 92 organizations across the country. Maximum individual awards are capped at $60,000. Recipients must demonstrate the importance of healthy and accessible urban waters in growing local businesses and enhancing educational, recreational, social and employment opportunities in nearby communities. Approximately $1.6 million is the total estimated funding available for awards under this competition. It is anticipated that each of the EPA’s regional offices will award approximately two to three cooperative agreements. A minimum non-federal cost share/match of $4,000 is required. Applicants must also fall within the eligible geographic areas as identified here.
The importance of improving the environmental integrity of rivers and their basins does not only make ecological sense, but also financial. According to David J. Hayes, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior, “Restoring urban waterways not only helps protect our water quality, urban parks and wildlife refuges, but also provides increased recreational opportunities that benefit residents and local economies."