TRENTON - Environmentalists are praising a package of new measures announced by the Department of Environmental Protection that would restrict development near hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in a move to protect water quality in New Jersey.

The measures, announced Monday by DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, would give special status, known as Category One, to more than 900 miles along 15 major waterways.

The special status means development is almost entirely banned within a 300-foot buffer along designated creeks, rivers, streams and reservoirs.

"This Category One proposal is our largest ever, and will mean safer drinking water for New Jersey's families and cleaner habitat for rare species of wildlife," Jackson said.

The state decides which waterways are protected based on factors such as their clarity, scenic value or importance to the water supply.

Some of the waterways scheduled for protection include Toms River in Ocean County, Pompeston Creek in Burlington County, the Wallkill River in Sussex County, and the Salem River in Salem County.

The restrictions would protect all or portions of the waterways.

The new rules would also require municipal planning agencies to create or update their wastewater-management plans, which govern how much development can take place based on the availability of sewer systems and their impact on the environment.

The rules would also give the DEP more authority to regulate how many septic systems could be used in a given area of development.

David Pringle from the New Jersey Environmental Federation said this rule was important because, as developers rely more and more on septic systems in building houses, the systems are being placed too close together and groundwater is being contaminated.

"Protecting these waterways is a smart move in a state that loses close to 50 acres of open space to new development every day," Dena Mottola Jaborska, from Environment New Jersey, said in a statement. "It's a common-sense step that will keep tons of pollution from forever degrading the most pristine waterways in New Jersey."

The New Jersey Builders Association had challenged the state's right to restrict development along waterways, saying that the state didn't have the authority to create the buffers and that it was unreasonable.

But a state appeals court last year sided with the state.

Susan E. Evans, the builders association's director of public relations, said yesterday that the organization was still reviewing the new measures and could not comment at this time.