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Municipal Action Guide

Learn the Issues

Visit our Issues page to get up to date on challenges to water quality in the Highlands, innovative ways to work together to preserve these community assets from further degradation.

  • The Hidden Link Between Bedrock and Clean Water

  • Protecting Drinking Water Supply

  • Protecting Recreational Uses

  • Honoring Our National Wild & Scenic Heritage: Federal, State, and Local Cooperation

  • Understanding Recreational Water Standards

  • Council of Governments Concept: Collaborating Across Municipalities 

Get the Facts

Prepare for Action

Review your Municipal Ordinances

Check if you have the following ordinances in place, and if they match model ordinances.  Changing ordinances or zoning does not affect existing land uses, like agriculture, or existing commercial, industrial, or residential uses.

If your municipality wants to upgrade an existing ordinance or introduce a new ordinance, the Highlands Council can pay for 100% of the costs of ordinance development, whether the municipality conforms with the Highlands Act or not. Contact your Highlands Council Municipal Liaison for more information.

Preparing for Action
Drinking Water

Protect Drinking Water

Wellhead Protection & Highlands Conformance

There are several ways for a municipality to protect public water supply wells and the underground aquifers that supply wells.  One is to establish a Wellhead Protection Area Ordinance.  This sets up protective zones around public water supplies, like those for towns and schools, and limits high pollution risk land uses in those protective zones. Another action that municipalities and counties can take is to conform their zoning with the Highlands Water Quality Protection and Planning Act, which provides comprehensive tools, funding, and even local delegation of decision-making to protect surface waters and underground drinking water aquifers.

Protect Wells, Rivers, and Streams

Designate Carbonate Rock Areas

Because groundwater can’t easily be seen, extra effort is needed to ensure there are no hidden impacts to drinking water and nearby surface waters.  Most all of the valleys in northwest NJ have limestone bedrock, a type of carbonate rock, which becomes soluble when exposed to acids. It can slowly dissolve when water flows through it, causing sinkholes that can lead to catastrophic collapses, and “disappearing” streams that flow beneath the surface, later returning to the surface as springs or ponds. Water flows very swiftly through carbonate rock and aquifers in carbonate rock regions are very productive, which keeps waters cool and is good for trout. Carbonate rock has both benefits and hazards, which is why it is important to have ordinances that serve to maintain the benefits, and prevent the hazards.

Model Ordinances:

Wells Rivers & Streams
Flooding & Runoff

Protect Buildings from Floods;

Rivers & Streams from Runoff

Establish Riparian Zones

Riparian zones establish a buffer zone of protected land around streams and rivers to naturally filter out pollutants in runoff and keep buildings out of flood areas. The NJDEP Flood Hazard Rules do not always limit develop from mapped Flood Zones established by FEMA, and NJDEP rules do not always address local conditions.

Model Ordinances:

Other Resources:

Municipal Spotlight:

Holland Township, bordered by the Delaware River and the Musconetcong River, created a Flood Hazard Area District to prevent loss of life and property during flood events in FEMA Flood Zones by limiting new construction, anchoring of structures to foundations to prevent property loss, and requiring measures to prevent floodwaters from entering the municipal drinking water supply system.

Industrial Areas

Right-Size Industrial Areas

Establish Industrial Zones

Large buildings, like warehouses, can add significant amounts of warm water to trout producing streams during rain storms and make the stream too hot for trout. Demand for large warehouses is increasing as companies look for ways to efficiently move goods through the region. High cube and automated warehouses are the latest trend and carry the potential to bring positive and negative impacts to the region. This shift in how warehouses operate will push the limits of local codes and regulations and require careful consideration by municipal governments. In many rural areas, with limited public services, large facilities can drive the need for additional infrastructure planning, including wastewater treatment, road capacity, and utility access.  There are several steps municipalities can take to manage the location, size, and look of this emerging development trend.

Some municipalities have “right-sized” their industrial zone ordinance by capping the size of buildings and limiting the paved, or impervious, areas, as well as locating these zones away from rivers and streams.

Municipal Spotlight:

Be Thorough

Be Thorough

Maintain an Environmental Inventory

Establish a check list approach to make sure that builders and municipal officials are consistent with decisions about land and water protection.  These ordinances can consider not only water quality protection, but also wildlife habitat, scenic resources, and impacts to cultural and historic sites.

Model Ordinances:

Municipal Spotlight:

Fishing Paddling & Hunting

Protect Fishing, Paddling, and Hunting

Pass a Recreational Waters Resolution

All waters are protected by the State, but the way we use waters – for fishing, paddling, wading, tubing, or duck hunting – is not considered when the state makes decisions about how much pollution to allow into a river or stream.  Pass a Resolution of Support to tell the state how we use our Great Waters, and encourage the NJDEP to establish a definition for “Exceptional Recreational Resources.” This will protect our National Wild and Scenic Rivers, Water Trails, and best fishing and hunting spots, keeping them the way they are now.

Model Resolution:

Municipal Spotlight:

These communities have adopted the Great Waters NJ Resolution:

  • Holland Township, on June 15, 2021.

  • Knowlton Township, on September 13, 2021.

Scenic Views & Historic Areas

Keep Scenic & Historic Views Intact

Identify and Designate Scenic Resources

Our connection to the visual landscape is so strong and powerful, that the view affects property values. However, impacts to the view, or viewshed, often seem ephemeral and hard to quantify.  As a result, ordinances have been developed to identify and protect Scenic Resources and Wild and Scenic River corridors, like those along the Delaware and Musconetcong Rivers.

Municipal Spotlight:

Holland Township reviews the scenic and aesthetic qualities of the Musconetcong National Wild and Scenic River as part of its Land Use Board review process §101-43(b)(4)

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