A vibrant little town in the midst of the beautiful New Jersey Pinelands has racked up a water conservation victory that is a shining example to towns all across the Delaware River Basin.
Hammonton is known as the blueberry capital of the world growing a large portion of the U.S.’ supply of berries and enticing tourists with its small-town ambience and rare and exotic plants and animals. Fun fact: Audrey II, the carnivorous plant of Little Shop of Horrors, was likely inspired by the Pinelands native Pitcher Plant.
Hammonton is included in the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, a protected natural area of unique forest and wetlands established by Congress in 1978 as the nation’s first National Reserve. The reserve is also a UNESCO designated world biosphere. People live, work and play in the Pinelands because it’s a special place, but it’s also a place where water is a constant challenge because the entire area depends on a single aquifer.
Hammonton encountered that challenge when it wanted to expand its wastewater treatment plant, and found it could not. Protective Pinelands rules prevented the town from releasing more treated water into the delicate natural systems that surround the town. So the community stepped up, embarking on a campaign to see how much water they could conserve to reduce the amount of water they needed to treat at the plant.
Conservation groups, residents and elected officials worked together on multiple fronts to encourage water conservation, and the community rose to the challenge, reducing water use by an astounding 30 percent over five years.
The effort was wide-ranging: partnerships and incentives for businesses, homeowners, landlords and golf course owners all made a difference. Changes in landscaping practices, increased use of native plants, and efficient appliances all chipped in to move the needle.
The town passed a new ordinance that made it more expensive to use more water, reversing a previous incentive that reduced the price per gallon for large water users. South Jersey Watersavers, a coalition of water experts, launched the 20 gallon challenge with a pledge to reduce daily water use to 20 gallons per day, down from an average 100 gallons per day before the effort was launched. The groups leveraged community relationships and resources—focusing on a shared love for the Pinelands and the community rather than blaming or shaming water users.
The work continues today, with a cadre of educated and eager municipal officials, a supportive community, and eagerness to tell their story to inspire other municipalities in the Pinelands and beyond.
This work is part of a regional clean water initiative dubbed the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is among the country’s largest non-governmental conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water—a first-of-its-kind collaboration involving 65 non-governmental organizations working together to protect and restore the Delaware River and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.