The Highlands is a physiographic province that stretches from western Connecticut to east central Pennsylvania. The New Jersey portion of the Highlands encompasses 88 municipalities in seven counties. Since passage of the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act the Highlands region in New Jersey is now protected from the piecemeal development patterns that characterize the rest of the State. The New Jersey Highlands is as important to the water supply of New Jersey as the Catskills region is to New York City. The Highlands is the source of clean drinking water to more than 5.4 million people, more than half of the State’s population. The Highlands also provides water to a large portion of New Jersey’s pharmaceutical, manufacturing and food & beverage industries. The Anheuser Busch bottling plant next to Newark Airport, for example, uses as much Highlands water per day as the City of Bayonne. The cost of water in New Jersey is the fourth lowest in the country. This is largely due to the purification function that the Highlands watersheds provide naturally and for free. Think of the Highlands as the world’s largest Brita water filter.
Highlands Preservation and Planning Areas
By statute the Highlands region is divided into 2 distinct areas; the Preservation Area, which came under the strict land-use regulations of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection with passage of the Highlands Act; and the Planning Area, which balances growth and development with water-resource protection through voluntary municipal conformance to the Highlands Regional Master Plan. The water resource protection goals for the Preservation and Planning Areas are the same. In the Preservation Area, the goals are achieved by regulation; in the Planning Area they are achieved through innovative regional Planning. Of the Highlands’ 88 municipalities, 5 are located entirely within the Preservation Area; 36 are entirely within the Planning Area; 47 are split between Preservation and Planning Areas.
The New Jersey Highlands Council adopted the Highlands Regional Master Plan in 2008. It is currently engaged in the Conformance process in which municipal zoning ordinances and master plans are aligned with the Regional Master Plan.
Advocating for Protection of the Highlands
The New Jersey Highlands Coalition has been advocating for the protection of the Highlands’ water and other natural and cultural resources since 1988. What began as a coalition of grassroots,regional, state-wide and national environmental and conservation organizations incorporated in 2006 as a charitable non-profit with its own Board of Trustees and a dedicated staff. Today, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition continues to represent its 70 member organizations in the preservation of the New Jersey Highlands region and its extraordinary resources that so many of us depend upon: Water, recreation, connections with our past, places to explore, places to play, places of beauty and a place to call home.