When the Commission was created in 1936, the tri-state waters were in terrible condition. World renown shellfish beds were condemned; shorelines were littered with debris, and rotting carcases of farm animals and fish greeted newcomers to the great Melting Pot. Minimal industrial regulation caused local rivers and streams to be unusable; even transportation was hindered by floating debris from collapsing piers and derelict vessels. These activities put ever-increasing demands and stresses on the coastal systems. This was a time when interstate conflicts arose regarding the sanitary conditions of the waters surrounding and shared by the States of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Because the vitality of the Tri-State Metropolitan Area is an integral part of the economy and ecology of the Region, it is paramount to establish a balance between the needs of the ecosystem and the demands of the surrounding communities which may, at times, be in conflict. It is an incredible success story that during the past seven decades the entire Region has rebounded.
Fortunately, returning to the water is a national focus. The Clean Water Act, established in 1972, set a national goal to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the waters of the United States. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC) — an agency with a mandate to protect this Tri-State Region’s waters long before the creation of state and national environmental entities, and before national standards were established. The Commission is gratified to report the great improvements in water quality throughout the Region where the majority of the waters are fishable and swimmable. However, the Region still faces problems — some of which are local, and some global in nature. Hypoxia, sediment contamination, pathogens, habitat loss, combined sewer overflows, atmospheric deposition, invasive species, global warming, impacts on living marine resources, land use issues and public education have all been identified as priority areas of concern. All of these issues have socio-economic impacts throughout the Region.
Following the recommendation of the Tri-State Treaty Commission, the Tri-State Compact establishing the District and the Commission was enacted in 1936, with the Consent of Congress. The Commission has an overall responsibility of protecting the environment by viewing the District from a regional, impartial and unbiased perspective. Whereas each state deals with issues within its own borders, the Commission can and does cross state lines. The Commission strives to harmonize water quality standards, regulations and requirements throughout its District. The IEC is unique in that it is an interstate environmental agency that does not hesitate to use its enforcement and regulatory powers — whenever necessary, on both an interstate and intrastate basis — to improve the quality of life for all citizens throughout this environmentally fragile Region.
The mandates of the Commission are governed by the Tri-State Compact, Statutes, and the IEC’s Water Quality Regulations. In addition to its mandates in water pollution, the capabilities and benefits of the Commission as a regional agency were also recognized when the IEC’s interstate air pollution program began in 1962, and were further reinforced in 1970 when the Commission was 2 designated as the coordinating and planning agency for the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut Air Quality Control Region. As the Commission plans to meet its mandates and goals for the future, IEC must adapt to adverse conditions, but rely on good science and sound engineering as an integral part of the decision-making process. The Metropolitan Area contains a world class harbor that is able to support a wide spectrum of commercial and recreational industries and activities.