Pathogens Monitoring Training Recap + commonly asked questions

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our “virtual” Summer 2020 Pathogens Monitoring Training on Monday April 20. We learned the “how-tos” of monitoring from Jessica Bonamusa with the Interstate Environmental Commission, and Michele Bakacs with Rutgers Extension / Middlesex County EARTH Center provided an overview of 2019 data findings.

You can view the Webex recording here. If prompted, please enter password: Pathogens2020

We hope to open up sign-ups for Thursday monitoring starting mid-May.

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about responsibilities and time commitment of a volunteer pathogens monitor:

Q: Do I need boots, waders, or other equipment? 

A: Boots, yes. And clothing appropriate for the weather, and clothing that will provide sun protection. Also: bug spray and a hat. We always ask volunteers to bring water and a snack. We have several sets of waders of different sizes that we can loan. And we have all other supplies.

Q: What time does the sample collecting begin and end?

A: We typically kick off between 8-9 AM. We meet at the Piscataway site, then caravan to the New Brunswick site, where some folks leave their cars. We then carpool to the remaining sites. Going from site to site takes about 4-5 hours depending on traffic. We then travel to Staten Island to take the samples to the lab. Depending on interest in the lab, we may stay as long as an hour to orient volunteers to what is going on there.

We generally return to the New Brunswick site by about 3pm.

Q: What about lunch?

A: Sometimes we grab a bite at a local restaurant either on Staten Island or in Perth Amboy. Please be sure to bring plenty of snacks to keep your energy up throughout the day. And don’t forget your water!

Q: Does everyone doing the collecting on a given day go to all the sites?

It is not always the case that all volunteers join us for the whole day. Some people choose just to help out with the sampling, and do not join us for the trip to Staten Island.

Q: What would I do as a volunteer monitor?

A: You will always have a team leader with the volunteers. The team leader is generally joined by three additional people. That seems about the right number of hands to do the work and help us keep to our schedule. In the field folks are absolutely given tasks! This includes recording site observation data, labeling sample bottles, taking samples (which can involve suiting up in waders), using the probe and documenting that data, keeping everything organized. This is quality controlled work and we do not send out volunteers on their own. The more hands the better and the faster things go. We ask folks to sign up for specific dates, and ask that they commit to going out with us for the full day.

Endangered Species of the Watershed Illustration Curriculum for grades 3-8

By Akansha Khurana

The Watershed Illustration Curriculum was developed to raise awareness about the endangered species of New Jersey, especially the flora and fauna of the Lower Raritan Watershed. Every species in the curriculum, from the Bald Eagle to the Closed Bottled Gentian, is in immediate danger due to human activities. These human activities are responsible for loss of species habitat due to habitat fragmentation and deforestation, over-exploitation of resources, disturbances, disease, introduction of invasive species, pollution and climate change. The survival of every species of wildlife is critical to preserving our state’s rich biodiversity and unique natural history. Unlike other natural threats, man-made threats are threats that we can prevent by changing our behavior.

These curriculum guides combine art and science to help students develop their creativity and artistic skills, while advancing their knowledge of the endangered species and plants that are in close proximity to them. By focusing on art, we also try to make the connection to the environment a personal experience. To save wildlife requires positive action. It requires changes in lifestyle and way of thinking.

Bald_Eagle

Blue_Spotted_Salamander

Bug_Life

Closed_Bottle_Gentian

Indiana_Bat

Red_Milkweed

Red_Tailed_Hawk

Short_Eared_Owl

Timber_Rattlesnake

As humans, we have the ability to understand the consequences of our actions, both present and past. We are capable of learning more about the effects our actions have on the world around us and how changes in those actions could help to alter future events. By examining how human activities have adversely impacted life on earth, we can take steps to reverse past damages and prevent future damage.

Thank you for learning about the special wildlife in the Lower Raritan, and how you can help protect them!

If water quality monitoring is inadequate, why do we monitor?

In our efforts to diagnose stream, river and watershed health, we regularly assess conditions in only a small portion of our waters. Even in those, we typically measure only a few things once a summer, or once every few years. What’s more, we may realize later we measured the wrong things, or used the wrong tool, at the wrong time, perhaps in the wrong way. We know that the quantity and quality of the data we obtain today is not adequate to diagnose our watersheds’ health and to prescribe the right actions to protect or restore them. So why then do we continue to monitor?

Sites of freshwater monitoring conducted by Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership “civic science” volunteers

Why monitor?

Critics of monitoring programs correctly point out that getting obsessed with gathering more data can blind us to clear lessons already learned and divert our attention and resources from actions clearly needed. It may be the case that not every stream needs on-going monitoring. But good monitoring activities should be underway in most of our streams and sub-watersheds.

The LRWP sees five major categories of benefits of long-term watershed-based monitoring programs:

1. Enhancing environmental education. People learn best from hands-on experience. One good day in the field studying a river provides more longlasting environmental lessons than ten lectures endured, a hundred news stories read, or a thousand one-line environmental slogans overheard. Monitoring inevitably promotes greater understanding and awareness in a community. When understanding and awareness grow, greater protection and stewardship almost always follow.

2. Clearly defining problems. Monitoring may help confirm fears about watershed problems and trends. It may also help dispel them. By helping us get a firm grip on the nature and magnitude of watershed problems, monitoring helps us focus our efforts and resources on the most important problems to address. When monitoring confirms that a water body is clean and healthy, it helps us define the desirable conditions we need to maintain over time.

3. Pinpointing sources of problems. Understanding what a watershed’s biggest problems are is only half the battle. The other is determining the real sources of those problems. A single problem may be the result of multiple sources, and multiple problems may stem from a single source. Thoughtful, comprehensive, adaptive, long-term monitoring helps us be sure we are addressing all the major sources of problems, not just some of their collective symptoms.

4. Setting standards and goals. Voluntary and regulatory watershed programs both work best when they are based on solid standards and clear goals. The best standards and goals grow from a well grounded understanding of historic and current conditions and trends. Without this type of understanding, standards and goals may be set inappropriately. If they are too low, protection and restoration efforts will not be aggressive enough, and opportunities may be delayed or missed. If they are too high, expectations may be unrealistic and the enthusiasm of involved parties may wane over time. Monitoring helps us set the bar at the right level for each watershed.

5. Providing benchmarks for measuring progress. Restoration and protection efforts cost money and take time—usually, years. Involved parties need clear evidence that their efforts are making a difference if they are to continue to justify their time, effort and expense. Consequently, monitoring before, during and after intensive protection and restoration efforts helps us explain the importance of current efforts and make the case for new ones.

Next steps

Of course the state and federal entities that have mandates to bring about fishable, swimmable waters can and should do more. However, government has not proven its capacity to do everything necessary for healthy waters. In addition to building and securing support for our monitoring programs we need to coordinate governmental and non-governmental monitoring efforts. We need to target those efforts toward better fundamental understanding of our watersheds and their problems. And we need to involve legions of interested and concerned citizens in the ongoing business of assessing watershed conditions and trends.

Brackish water sites monitored for presence of pathogens/bacteria by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Where Did All the Streams Go? Hidden waters of Metuchen

Article and photos by William Baumle, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course

Waterways possess an essential ecological value, providing a wide range of ecosystem services.  Ecosystem services are benefits the natural world provides to humans. For waterways, these benefits are the result of a combination of a waterway’s hydrology, vegetation, fauna, and micro-organisms.  Together, these natural structures and organisms provide beneficial outcomes for people, animals, and other ecosystems.

What is hydrology?
Hydrology is the branch of science
concerned with the properties of the Earth’s water
and especially it’s movement in
relation to land.

Unfortunately, human development has often resulted in waterways being diverted underground to make way for the construction of roads and buildings.  Do you know a “River Road” or “Water Street” near you, but not near water?  It may be that sometime in the past, there was a waterway there that was diverted underground to make way for people.

Hidden waters of Metuchen

Did you know?
The name “Metuchen” first appeared in 1688/1689, and its name was derived from the name of a Native American chief, known as Matouchin or Matochshegan.

The Borough of Metuchen, located within Middlesex County and wholly surrounded by Edison Township, has quite an interesting history of hidden waterways. While burying and/or paving over historic streams and tributaries is not unique, the vast number of waterways which have been covered for the sole purpose of development within the Borough of Metuchen is notable.

Metuchen, 1876
Source: Rutgers MapMaker

Due to development, few waterways or bodies of water exist within the Borough today.  By comparison, a map from 1876 indicates the presence of multiple waterways around modern-day Amboy Avenue and Main Street, with one exiting to a pond located on Lake Avenue.  The map also shows that Metuchen had several notable ponds and lakes, nearly all of which have been filled in or covered.  There were a number of ponds along what we now know as High Street but all those ponds have been buried and now lie beneath rows of houses.  Only Tommy’s Pond remains.

Tommy’s Pond in Metuchen, 1950s
Skating on Tommy’s pond in Metuchen

Today, a number of unnamed streams run through the Borough of Metuchen, which, in addition to the recently manmade waterway which accompanies the Middlesex Greenway, drain into the Raritan Watershed.  Interestingly, Metuchen is distinctive among New Jersey communities in that it is comprised of not even three-square miles and yet drains into three separate sub-watersheds.  Three headwater tributaries which originate in the Borough, drain into Bound Brook.  The southwestern areas of the town drain into the Mill Brook, located within Edison Township. The northeastern areas of the town drain into the South Branch of the Rahway Watershed.

Directly outside of Metuchen lies a 500-year flood zone, which simply means that in any given year, there is a 1/500 chance a significant flood will affect the area. While Metuchen does not have any significant sources of flooding, there are a few minor areas of the floodplain associated with the Dismal Swamp Preserve and a channelized portion of the Middlesex Greenway. Unsurprisingly, the areas indicated as being the greatest risk of flooding are located along historical streams and tributaries, which have been largely filled in. Notably, however, this area of the Borough has not historically regularly flooded – only in rare instances, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Irene (2011) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

References

The Changing Landscape of Metuchen, Rutgers Special Collections. Retrieved from: https://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/METUCHEN/oldMetuchen.html

The Metuchen-Edison Historical Society. Retrieved from: http://www.jhalpin.com/metuchen/met-ed.htm

Spies, Stacey E. (2000) Images of America: Metuchen. Mount Pleasant, SC. Arcadia

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

Virtual Town Hall with Assemblyman Karabinchak

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 6:30 PM –  7:30 PM ET

Just before COVID-19 upended our lives, a new committee was created in the New Jersey State Assembly to focus on issues related to water – including beach erosion, water integrity and security, dams and reservoirs, algae blooms, lead contamination, wastewater infrastructure, stormwater challenges, and the effects of climate change. We’re thrilled to have the chair of this committee join us on a virtual town hall next week.

On Wednesday April 29 from 6:30-7:30 pm, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership will join New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, and Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions in hosting a statewide virtual townhall with the chair of that committee; Assemblyman Karabinchak.

Join us Wednesday, April 29 from 6:30–7:30 p.m. to hear from Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak on what he hopes to accomplish in his new committee.  

RSVP to receive the login information >>

This will be a great time to share your concerns, and ask questions of Assemblyman Karabinchak about how this new committee will work to protect our water and other natural resources.

Happy Earth Week from the LRWP!

Watch our Earth Day Message on YouTube!

Happy Earth Week!

My name is Heather Fenyk, and I am President of the Board of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

During this time of quarantine, we, the Board, our interns and volunteers, miss being together and drawing inspiration from time together outside.

We are trying to find creative ways to connect with each other, and with you.

We know that time outside in nature, connecting with nature, allows us to become bigger than the problems we face.

We also know that service and stewardship gives us a similar broader view.

While we wait in our homes – that may also now serve as office, school, kitchen, classroom or gym – we invite you to prepare for stewardship!

We are now hosting virtual trainings in water quality monitoring or habitat connectivity planning – our first virtual training is pathogens monitoring webinar on Monday April 20. You can also sign up for our Habitat Connectivity planning workshop on May 4. Information on other upcoming events is on our events page.

We will also soon send invitations for a virtual flyover “tour” of our Lower Raritan Watershed. This special event will include Q & A with photographer Alison M. Jones, who will share images of the Raritan Basin taken during a recent flight sponsored by LightHawk.

The Covid-19 crisis has a huge impact on humanity, on our institutions, on ourselves.

During this time, it is hard to stay engaged in the environmental issues we care so deeply about.

We thank you for staying engaged!

We hope to soon see you in the watershed!

Quarantine Clean-ups: why the LRWP is sitting them out

Many of you have reached out in the past several weeks to encourage the LRWP to move forward with our planned “virtual” clean-ups for Earth Week.

At the request of local leaders, including Mayors and Councilmen from around the watershed, we have decided not to support these virtual events.

Since the closing of parks by Governor Murphy, Mayors from both sides of the political aisle have expressed their view that encouraging outdoor clean-ups of public spaces is at odds with Murphy’s Executive Order.

In addition, these leaders are concerned that policing closed public parks may present challenges for local law enforcement. They also wish to reduce the risk for their already high-risk DPW workers and avoid putting an additional burden on them with refuse from clean-ups.

Of course the LRWP is eager to get out to clean-up our beloved outdoor spaces, however we respect concerns of our local leadership and honor their request.

Your Health and COVID-19: Four Illness-Fighting Benefits of Getting Outdoors

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.”  -G.M. Trevelyan

The silver lining in COVID-19-related time off from work and school? More hours to get outside.

Time out-of-doors yields illness-fighting benefits (a few are listed below). Check out the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership’s map of open space in the Lower Raritan or find a park map for your area, lace up your shoes, and head outdoors. Getting outside may be just what the doctor ordered.

1. Breathe fresh air. Although the viruses that cause flu and colds are more common in the winter months, the circulated air in closed environments is the main cause of illness. Windows are closed, germs are recycled through air vents, and the general tendency in cooler months is to stay indoors. The thing is, the more time spent inside, the more you risk exposure. In fresh outdoor air the chance for spreading infection is reduced.

2. Strengthen the immune system. Time outside gives you an escape from indoor germs and bacteria. Increased time outside is associated with stronger autoimmune systems, and a resistance to allergies. Studies have shown that children in rural areas, or who are active outside, have the best overall health.

3. Engage in physical exercise. Time outside is associated with greater physical activity, and physical activity gives your immune system a power surge for a full 24 hours. A stronger immune system leads to less illness and less use of antibiotics.

4. Shift your perspective. Time outside can be a welcome break from the technology-focus of our 21st century lives. Get out for a wildlife hike and watch the birds and other critters – many of them are in full throttle nest building this time of the year. Taking a break out-of-doors, connecting with local ecology, is great for your mental health!

Open Space in the Lower Raritan Watershed

Volunteers wanted for Summer 2020 pathogens monitoring!

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County seek civic science volunteers to assist with the Summer 2019 “Citizen Science Monitoring for Pathogens Indicators on the Raritan River.” This program will run every Thursday from mid-May to the end of September. Volunteers will travel with a monitoring team to capture water quality samples at sites along the Raritan River, followed by a trip to the IEC lab in Staten Island to assist with preparation of samples for analysis. A 2 hour training is required, after which the Project Team would like volunteers to commit to assisting with at least five (5) sampling events throughout Summer 2020.

Please join us for a virtual training on Monday April 20, 4:30-6:30 PM. Registration required.

This project will allow us to gather data and other information on water quality for six public access sites along the tidal portions of the Raritan River at locations considered non-bathing beaches. In addition to capturing water samples at each of the six public access sites, volunteers will have the opportunity to go to the IEC lab on Staten Island to learn how samples are processed for monitoring.

We will monitor non-bathing beach sites with active kayak/canoe launches and/or fishing and other primary contact activities that are not regularly monitored by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection or the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and lack sufficient water quality data.

Bacteria data will be reported in “real-time” on Friday afternoons to allow Lower Raritan residents and others to make informed decisions about their on-water recreation activities for the weekend.

The Project will also allow for development of civic science and expanded volunteer environmental monitoring programming within the Lower Raritan Watershed and Middlesex County, NJ. Working with an approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) will allow for data generated from this project to inform water quality policy and regulatory decisions at all levels of government (state, federal, local) within the project area, and to educate the public.

Water quality monitoring sampling will directly inform public access decision-making for six (6) diverse Lower Raritan Watershed municipalities (see site map below). These sites include:

  1. Riverside Park (Piscataway)
  2. Rutgers Boathouse at Boyd Park (New Brunswick)
  3. Edison Basin Boat Launch (Edison Township)
  4. Ken Buchanan Riverfront Park (Sayreville)
  5. Raritan Bay Waterfront Park (South Amboy)
  6. 2nd Street / Brighton Avenue Beach (Perth Amboy)

Sites were chosen to inform decision-making about access and use, to aid understanding of municipal stormwater and sewage flows, and to inform current and future landuse planning and restoration efforts. Sites include the following known activities: 1) launch sites for personal non-motorized watercraft (sites 1-5); 2) fishing (sites 2-6); 3) birding hotspots (site 5); 4) crabbing (sites 2,4,5,6); 5) proximate to Combined Sewer Overflow (site 6); 6) unofficial bathing activity (sites 2,5,6); 7) collegiate watersport competition (site 2).

Generous support for equipment and data analysis is provided by the Interstate Environmental Commission.

By the Light of the Silvery Spring Moon

Article and photos by Joe Mish

In the dark of night or by the light of a full moon, screech owls are on the prowl for food. Spring peepers sound a dinner bell for a hungry owl and are the perfect size for the diminutive screech owl.

The last full moon of winter rose in the night sky to escape the clouds which hung just above the horizon. As the moon passed above this dark velvet curtain, an infinite army of dark shadows suddenly appeared and stood tall in contrast to the silver-gray tinted background. Though the moon light turned night into day, all color melted into shades of gray.

A chorus of spring peepers provided backup music to solo performances by pickerel frogs, toads and green frogs. The sound ebbed and flowed with brief moments of sudden silence as if to gather audience attention. The amphibian love fest seemed heightened by the silvery mood light hovering high above. The calls professing infinite amphibian love, also attract predators whose love extends only to a dietary delight. The flash of a low flying owl, was revealed as moonlight reflected off its white under feathers during a sharp turn. This aerial pirouette coincided with a dead silence from the chorus of frogs. When the sounds of love returned, haltingly at first, then to full volume, it was impossible to tell if there was now one less second tenor.

Turning back from the meadow, I began to scan the moonlit surface of the gently flowing river. Any disturbance in the perfectly smooth, glass-like water surface would reveal the presence of some otherwise elusive creature or unfolding drama. Locally common aquatic furbearers, mink, beaver, muskrat, along with land dwellers, especially raccoon, are most active at night and may occasionally be seen.

There was a substantial inventory of sticks and barely exposed rocks causing irregularities in the smooth water that had to be checked off as false positives. It became a game of concentration to recall which disturbance to ignore. One sure sign of interest is the half circle pattern of ripples moving out from the shore, perpendicular to the water flow. Many a muskrat leaving its submerged bank den will send telltale ripples to preface its appearance. Same goes for mink, or raccoon investigating nooks and crannies in the labyrinth of tree roots. One night, a large wake appeared to reveal the presence of a barge size raccoon, paddling from shore to island. The moonlight revealed a perfectly dry ball of fur, slowly swimming, as if to not get its hair wet. It soon disappeared into the deep shadows of the island’s trees.

Another moonlit night, during very low water, the smooth water flow was interrupted by something walking from shore to island a distance away and partially obscured by branches. I fully expected to see a deer as its relatively long legs dismissed the possibility of a raccoon. I was shocked to see a fox walking in the water. The digital image captured is visual blur but clearly shows a red fox willing to get its feet wet for something its nose demanded to investigate.

Though the natural world is a never ending, non-stop feature film, we see only out of context isolated frames which are inadequate to understand the complexity and co-dependence of the natural community of which we are an inseparable part.

The light of a full moon becomes the movie projector used to provide an opportunity to see what goes on in the dark of night and add needed perspective to our knowledge of the natural world.

Note some moon fun facts. The diameter of the moon is less than the width of the United States. A case of “objects in the mirror appear closer than they really are.” The moon’s axial rotation matches exactly the time it takes to orbit the earth. The moon is capable of raising and lowering the sea level, triggering migrations and influencing animal and human behavior. Bird migrations are associated with the full moon and in the case of woodcock, provide a well-lit stage for a display of early spring mating flights. A recent study has found that a protein exists in birds’ eyes which allow it to actually see and navigate by the blue light generated from the magnetic poles. The influence of moon phase on migration and animal activity is well documented.  See Solunar Tables by John Alden Knight, Also Richard Alden Knight https://www.usprimetimes.com/theory.html  for more information on sun, moon and tide affects on behavior.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

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