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Highlands Basin Aquifer System Highlands Basin Aquifer System

Federal Register Notice

Volume 52, No. 192, Page 37213
Monday, October 5, 1987
Sole Source Aquifer Determination
for the Highlands Aquifer System
  in Passaic, Morris and Sussex Counties, New Jersey 
and Orange County, New York

  • AGENCY
  • ACTION
  • SUMMARY
  • DATES
  • SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION
  • AGENCY

    Environmental Protection Agency

    ACTION

    Notice.

    SUMMARY

    Notice is hereby given that, pursuant to Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region II, has determined that the Highlands Aquifer System, underlying portions of Passaic, Morris, and Sussex Counties, New Jersey and Orange County, New York, is the sole or principal source of drinking water for the townships of West Milford, Jefferson, Rockaway, Vernon, and Hardyston, and a portion of the Borough of Pompton Lakes, the entire Boroughs of Bloomingdale, Ringwood, Wanaque, Butler and Riverdale, New Jersey; and portions of the Townships of Warwick and Tuxedo, and the entire Village of Greenwood Lake, New York. This aquifer, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health. As a result of this action, all Federal financially assisted projects constructed in designated Highlands Aquifer Area will be subject to EPA review to ensure that these projects are designed and constructed such that they do not create a significant hazard to public health.

    DATES

    This determination shall be promulgated for purposes of judicial review 1:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight time on October 19, 1987.

    ADDRESS: The data on which these findings are based are available to the public and may be inspected during normal business hours at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Ground Water Management, Room 805, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, New York 10278.

    FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John S. Malleck, Chief, Office of Ground Water Management, Room 805, Environmental Protection Agency, Region II at (212) 264-5635.

    SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION

    I. Background

    Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C., 300f, 300h-3(e), Pub. L. 93-523) states:

    (e) If the Administrator determines, on his own initiative or upon petition, that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal drinking water source for the area and which, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health, he shall publish a notice of the determination in the Federal Register. After the publication of any such notice, no commitmentfor Federal financial assistance (through a grant, contract, loan guarantee, or otherwise) may be entered into for any project which the Administrator determines may contaminate such aquifer through a recharge zone so as to create a significant hazard to public health, but a commitment for Federal financial assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it will not so contaminate the aquifer.

    On March 9, 1987, the Administrator duly delegated to the Regional Administrator the authority to determine, under section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 21 U.S.C. 300h-3(e), that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal source of drinking water for the area and which, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health.

    On March 14, 1985, EPA received a petition from Mr. Charles Slawinski, Mayor of the Township of West Milford and Dr. Ella F. Filippone, Executive Administrator of the Passaic River Coalition, which asked EPA to designate the Highlands Aquifer System as a sole source aquifer or principal aquifer. A public hearing was conducted on December 9, 1986 and the public was permitted to submit comments on the petition request until January 9, 1987.

    The petition submitted to EPA encompassed the Pochuck, Wanaque and Pequannock River drainage basins. However, based on EPA's review of the hydrogeologic information, the Pochuck River drainage basin has been deleted from the final sole source designation area. A major basin divide exists between the Pochuck River which runs west and north, and the Pequannock and Wanaque Rivers which run south and east. This basin divide, in conjunction with the lack of evidence to support a statement to the contrary, lead EPA to conclude that the Pochuck River drainage basin is not part of the same aquifer system as the Wanaque and Pequannock. Available information indicates that the Pochuck could meet Sole Source Aquifer criteria; however, more information is needed.

    II. Basis for the Determination

    Among the factors to be considered by the Agency in connection with the designation of a sole source aquifer area under section 1424(e) are: (1) Whether the Highlands Aquifer System is the area's sole or principal source of drinking water and (2) whether contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health. On the basis of technical information available to this Agency, the following are the findings, which are the basis for the determination noted above:

    1. The Highlands Aquifer System as defined by the EPA currently serves as the "Sole or Principal Source" of drinking water for approximately 89,121 persons in the service area, representing 85 percent of the population.

    2. There is no existing or potential alternative drinking water source or combination of sources capable of replacing the Highlands Aquifer System should it become contaminated.

    3. The Highlands Aquifer System consists of Quaternary glacial drift, Paleozoic sedimentary formations, and Pre-Cambrian permeable soil characteristics. This aquifer is susceptible tocontamination through its recharge zone from a number of sources including, but not limited to, chemical spills, highway and urban area runoff, septic systems, leaking storage (above and underground) tanks, and landfill leachate. Since ground water contamination can be difficult or sometimes impossible to remediate and since the afore-mentioned communities rely on the Highlands Aquifer System for drinking water purposes, contamination of the aquifer would pose a significant hazard to public health.

    III. Description of the Highlands Aquifer System of Passaic, Morris and Sussex Counties, New Jersey, and Orange County, New York Area, its Recharge Zone and Streamflow Source Zone

    The Highlans Aquifer System is composed of permeable glacial drift overlying permeable sedimentary and fractured igneous and metamorphic formations.

    For the purpose of this designation, the Highlands Aquifer System is considered to include the entirety of the Wanaque and Pequannock River basins in New Jersey and New York. The aquifer system covers approximately 195 square miles and includes portions of the Townships of West Milford, Jefferson, Rockaway, Vernon and Hardyston, and portions of the Borough of Pompton Lakes, the entire Boroughs of Bloomingdale, Ringwood, Wanaque, Butler and Riverdale, new Jersey; portions of the Townships of Warwick and Tuxedo, and the entire Village of Greenwood Lake, New York.

    Because the Wanaque and Pequannock River basins are covered with permeable sediments, the recharge zone, where water percolates directly to the aquifer, includes the entire areal extent of the Highlands Aquifer Area. Since no streams flow into the Wanaque and Pequannock River basins, there is no streamflow source zone for the aquifer.

    The boundary of both the designated area and aquifer service area are the boundaries of the Wanaque and Pequannock River basins. Thus, the designated area in which Federal financially assisted projects will be subject to review is the Wanaque and Pequannock River basins which include portions of Passaic, Morris and Sussex, Counties New Jersey, and Orange County, New York.

    IV. Information Utilized in Determination

    The information utilized in this determination includes the petition, written and verbal comments submitted by the public, and various technical publications and verbal communication with various departments in the affected municipalities. The above data are available to the public and may be inspected during normal business hours at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region II, Office of Ground Water Management, Room 805, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, New York 10278.

    V. Project Review

    EPA Region II is working with the Federal agencies that may provide financial assistance to projects in the area of concern. Interagency procedures and Memoranda of Understanding have been developed through which EPA will be notified of proposed commitments by Federal agencies for projects which could potentially contaminate the Highlands Aquifer System, upon which portions of the Townships of West Milford, Jefferson, Rockaway, Vernon, Hardyston, and a portion of the Borough of Pompton Lakes, the entire Boroughs of Bloomingdale, Ringwood, Wanaque, Butler and Riverdale, New Jersey; portions of the Townships of Warwick and Tuxedo, and the entire Village of Greenwood Lake, New York are dependent for their sole or principal source water supply. EPA will evaluate such projects and, where necessary, conduct an in-depth review, including soliciting public comments where appropriate.

    In many cases, these Federally assisted projects may also be analyzed in an "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) under the National Environ-mental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C). All EIS, as well as any other proposed Federal actions affecting an EPA program or responsibility, are required by Federal law (under the so-called "NEPA/309" process) to be reviewed and commented upon by the EPA Administrator (42 U.S.C. 7609 required EPA to conduct this review). The "309" in a "NEPA/309" derives from the original source of this general requirement, section 309 of the Clean Air Act.

    Therefore, in order to streamline EPA's review of the possible environmental impacts on designated aquifers, when an action is analyzed in an EIS, the two reviews will be consolidated and both authorities will be cited. The EPA review (under the Safe Drinking Water Act) of Federally-assisted projects potentially affecting sole or principal source aquifers will be included in the EPA review (under the "NEPA/309" process) of any EIS accompanying the same Federally-assisted project. The letter transmitting EPA's comments on the final EIS to the lead agency will be the vehicle for informing the lead agency of EPA's actions under section 1424(e).

    Should the Regional Administrator determine that a project may contaminate the aquifer through its recharge zone so as to create a significant hazard to public health, no commitment for Federal financial assistance may be entered. However, a commitment for Federal financial assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it will not so contaminate the aquifer.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will rely to the maximum extent possible on any existing or future State and local control mechanisms in protecting the ground water quality of the Highlands Aquifer System, EPA review of any Federally financially assisted project will be coordinated with the State and local agencies and their comments will be given full consideration. The Federal review process will attempt to complement and support State and local ground water protection mechanisms.

    VI. Summary and Discussion of Public Comments

    The majority of verbal and written comments received on the petition were in favor of designating the Highlands Aquifer System as a sole or principal source aquifer. A public hearing was held on December 9, 1986. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection(NJDEP) presented the only statement in opposition to the designation at the hearing. The only letter received in opposition was from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

    The NJDEP questioned the boundaries of the aquifer. They also urged EPA to act on Jer Jersey's statewide petition in lieu of designating the Highlands Aquifer System which is only a small portion of the State.

    The boundaries of the Highlands Aquifer System are based on a USGS report (Carswell and Rooney, 1976), which state that the aquifer boundaries in this area follow the surface water divides. It is EPA's general policy to act on petitions in the order in which they are submitted. The statewide petition is currently being revised; therefore, EPA is not in a position to make a determination on it.

    NYSDEC contends that the Highlands Aquifer System is not a national or statewide significance for public water supply. They believe sole source designation of this area would require the diversion of limited program funds away from "primary public water supply aquifers" which have been targeted in the New York Upstate Ground Water Management Program as priority management areas.

    NYSDEC did not give their definition of "national or statewide significance". The sole source aquifer program criteria requires that the aquifer be needed to supply 50 percent or more of the drinking water in the service area. The Region has found that the Highlands Aquifer System meets this criteria, and, therefore, it is of national and statewide significance. This criteria differs from that of NYSDEC's primary public water supply aquifer program, and it does not require consideration of individual state priorities basins.

    NYSDEC also questioned the petitions population statistics for people in the New York Area served by ground water. None of the areas in which NYSDEC questioned is included in the designated area.

    VII. Economic and Regulatory Impact

    Pursuant to the provisions of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 605(b), I hereby certify that the attached rule will not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities. For purposes of this Certification the "small entity" shall have the same meaning as given in Section 601 of the RFA. This action is only applicable to portions of Passaic, Morris, and Sussex Counties, New Jersey, and Orange County, New York. The only affected entities will be those area-based businesses, organizations or governmental jurisdictions that request Federal financial assistance for projects which have the potential for contaminating the aquifer so as to create a significant hazard to public health. EPA does not expect to be reviewing small isolated commitments of financial assistance on an individual basis, because their potential for contaminating the aquifer is remote. Accordingly, the number of affected small entities will be minimal. However, if the Region anticipates that a cumulative impact on the aquifer will occur, small isolated commitments will be reviewed.

    For those small entities which are subject to review, the impact of today's action will not be significant. Most projects subject to this review will be preceded by a ground water impact assessment required pursuant to other Federal laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as amended at 42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq. Integration of those related review procedures will allow EPA and other Federal agencies to avoid delay or duplication of effort in approving financial assistance, thus minimizing any adverse effect on those small entities which are affected. Finally, today's action does not prevent grants of Federal financial assistance which may be available to any affected small entity in order to pay for the redesign of the project to assure protection of the aquifer.

    Under Executive Order 12291, EPA must judge whether a regulation is "major" and therefore, subject to the requirement of a Regulatory Impact Analysis. This regulation is not major because it will not have an annual effect of $100 million or more on the economy, will not cause any major increase in costs of prices and will not have significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or the ability of United States enterprises to compete in domestic or export markets. Today's action only affects the Highlands Aquifer System which underlies portions of Passaic, Morris, and Sussex Counties, New Jersey, and a portion of Orange County, New York.

    It provides an additional review of ground water protection measures, incorporating, State and local measures whenever possible, for only those projects which request Federal financial assistance.

    Dated: September 25, 1987.

    Christopher J. Daggett, Regional Administrator
    Environmental Protection Agency, Region II.

    [FR Doc. 8722920 Filed 10/2/87; 8:45 am]
    BILLING CODE 656050M

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