Ten Towns Committee
History of the Ten Towns Committee
A Case Study of Inter-Municipal Cooperation to Provide Regional Watershed Management
The "Beginnings"

The Ten Towns Great Swamp Watershed Management Committee is an inter-municipal organization in New Jersey established in June 1995 to provide an effective regional watershed management program in the Great Swamp watershed. The Committee is comprised of three representatives from each of the ten municipalities within the geographic limits of the Great Swamp watershed, located approximately 30 miles west of New York City.

The beginnings of the Committee actually trace back to the late 1960's when the New York-New Jersey Port Authority proposed construction of a regional airport in the watershed. There was strong opposition to this proposal by citizens recognizing the highly environmentally sensitive nature of the watershed and the value of this natural resource in the New York metropolitan area. A citizens' group was formed which resulted in purchase or donation of more than 1,000 acres which were designated as a national wildlife refuge in the 1970's.

Additional history from this era is included in the Keynote Address "Sustainable Stewardship" delivered by Dr. Len Hamilton at the Ten Towns Committee's Tenth Anniversary Celebration on June 24, 2005.

In the early 1980’s, Chatham Township proposed an expansion of their sewage treatment plant, which is located within the Great Swamp watershed. As a part of the public comment process, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection established a broad-based committee of stakeholders known as the Great Swamp Watershed Advisory Committee (GSWAC). After nearly four years of study and deliberation, the GSWAC issued a set of recommendations for better stormwater management within the Great Swamp watershed.

The recommendations of the GSWAC were incorporated into legislation that proposed an independent commission to oversee development and regulate environmental protection in the Great Swamp watershed.  Morris 2000, a non-partisan, county wide volunteer organization dealing with regional issues recognized that this type of “top-down” approach would be opposed by local municipalities that have authority for land use decisions under the New Jersey land use law.

Given the likely failure or, at best, limited success of the proposed independent commission, Morris 2000 took the initiative to contact legislators, interested citizen groups and all municipalities in the Great Swamp watershed to seek an alternative course of action. The result was the establishment of the Ten Towns Committee in June 1995, through an inter-municipal agreement that was adopted unanimously by the governing bodies of each community.


The Ten Towns Committee developed a comprehensive program of activities to develop and implement a watershed management plan.

The Committee was the first of its kind in New Jersey and has become a model for effective organization to successfully deal with regional concerns based on an approach that emphasizes:

  • Inclusion and full participation of all interested parties.
  • A "grass roots" organization of municipalities most affected by and responsible for environmental regulations.
  • A partnership established by all four levels of government (municipal, county, state and federal) and with various private organizations.
  • A systematic approach for setting goals and establishing priorities.
  • An action oriented work plan to coordinate individual activities in the most cost effective manner possible.
The Ten Towns Committee consists of three representatives from each municipality who are appointed by the municipal governing body. The recommended appointees are one elected official, one administrative official and one citizen member such as a member of the local environmental commission. Perhaps the single greatest reason for the Committee's success has been active participation by Committee members—after eight years and nearly 100 meetings, the group has never failed to have a quorum.

There is also a five-member Executive Committee and a part-time Executive Director to handle day- to-day activities and coordinate the full watershed management program.

The Watershed Management Program

Initially, the Ten Towns Committee was given a two-year life and a mandate to develop a watershed management plan to demonstrate its effectiveness in meeting the goal to protect water resources. The Committee began with a one-year education program to develop a common base of knowledge and understanding that was accepted by all parties. During this one-year education period, a Request for Proposals was prepared for a consultant to assist in preparing the watershed management plan. The plan was completed within the two-year timeframe. The Management Plan was presented to each municipal governing body and was unanimously adopted by all municipalities in the watershed by September 1997.

Since that time, a comprehensive program of watershed management has been developed including the following:

  • An ongoing education program for Committee members, municipal officials and the public on a variety of topics affecting water quality.
  • An analysis of environmental ordinances and preparation of model ordinances presented to each municipal governing body for adoption.
  • Establishment of a state-of-the-art chemical water monitoring program to provide baseline data on water quality in the Great Swamp watershed and an accurate basis for evaluating water quality in the future, particularly the impact of both positive and detrimental actions that occur in the watershed.
  • Establishment of a macroinvertebrate water monitoring program to complement the chemical monitoring program as another means of evaluating water quality.
  • Preparation of "environmental assessments" of each of the five sub-watersheds in the Great Swamp to provide more detailed information on nonpoint source pollution as a guide for actions to improve water quality.
  • Preparation of a stream corridor analysis of the watershed to provide a defensible basis for stream corridor regulations by Ten Towns municipalities.
  • Development of specific Water Quality Standards for each of the five sub-watersheds.
  • A continuing series of educational programs.
  • Construction of best management practices (BMPs) including retrofitted stormwater detention basins, bioretention systems and stream corridor restoration projects.
Ten Towns Model Environmental Ordinances

One of the most important activities of the Ten Towns Committee is the development of model environmental ordinances prepared with the assistance of a 319(h) grant received from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The model ordinances reflect the Committee's understanding that perhaps the single most important action to protect water quality is through local ordinances that stress protection of water resources as part of regulations for development and redevelopment in each community .

The Committee recognized that simple preparation of model ordinances was not sufficient if these ordinances were not adopted and enforced by the municipalities in the watershed.

The accompanying chart is the Committee's "scorecard" to show actions to adopt or upgrade environmental ordinances from 1997 to the present. The chart reflects more than 60 different actions taken by municipal governing bodies during the past four years to upgrade environmental ordinances to significantly improve or fully comply with the provisions of the model ordinances.

Currently, municipal governing bodies are continuing to review and act to upgrade their environmental ordinances. The Ten Towns Committee is in active communication with each Great Swamp watershed municipality to encourage further adoption of ordinances in the remaining areas that do not comply with the model ordinances. It is anticipated that eight or ten additional ordinances will be adopted during 2002 resulting in further "greening" of the ordinance compliance chart.

The Ten Towns color-coded "scorecard" dramatically illustrates the effectiveness of local government actions to protect water quality in the Great Swamp watershed. The Committee will continue its watershed management program, not only with respect to model environmental ordinances, but also with a full range of activities to meet the goals of the Great Swamp watershed management plan.


The achievements of the Ten Towns Committee represent one of the most successful examples of inter-municipal cooperation in the State of New Jersey. Although the Committee has no authority with respect to actions by individual municipalities, the implementation of the watershed management program has been highly successful by virtue of the fact that the Committee is a direct arm of the municipalities.

This model for responding to regional needs can also be applied in other areas and, possibly, to other types of regional needs.

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