The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is often asked to talk about the most pressing environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities. Here is our “Top 10” list of cross-cutting concerns for 2019. Starting in February we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. We invite you to join in the conversation.
Poorly coordinated stormwater management, conducted at municipal (not watershed) scales, means that one community’s flood control efforts can lead to another community’s flooding problems.
Centuries of burying and culverting streams has “disappeared” many waterways, compromising the ability of our landscape to adequately capture and store rain and stormwater runoff.
Perceptions of safety (poor lighting, litter) around riverfront spaces, and poor signage and access to these spaces, deters use and enjoyment of our waterways. If we don’t know our rivers and streams we won’t grow to love them and act to protect them.
Failure of aging water infrastructure (culverts, pipes, inlets and outfalls), an urgent safety issue for all our communities, is exacerbated by an increase in precipitation due to climate change.
Poor control of non-point pollution sources (fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, sediments from development and erosion, oil and grease and road salt from roadways, animal and human waste, dumping of detergents and paints and other chemicals into stormdrains, and litter) results in high chemical levels, bacteria loads and algal blooms in our rivers and streams.
Loss of biodiversity in our watershed, and a reduction in absolute numbers of insects and flora and fauna, reduces the ability of our ecosystem to cope with threats from pollution, climate change and other human activities.
State and regional authorities do not have a clear plan to improve knowledge of the health of the Raritan and its tributaries, and do not model pollutant loads for our watershed.
Recent federal rollbacks of requirements for oil and gas reporting may result in increased methane emissions and open the door to more pipelines that fragment and threaten habitat.
Federal policies that extend the offshore fishing season and increase allowances in catch rates for commercial fishing reduce numbers of anadromous migratory fish in the Raritan, affecting the food chain.
Limited regional cooperation, a “home rule” focus, and lack of collaborative action and capacity building results in a slow pace of restoration and improvements in our watershed.
Check with your local Environmental Commission or Green Team for information about specific source impacts and development pressures in your community.
Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward
Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.
As my year-long project entailing the assessment of the Ambrose Brook is now drawing to a close, I wanted to make one last observational visit to the site, which I completed on 31 December 2018. As I was driving over, in my mind I reviewed the year and wondered, at this point in the process, if there would anything more or new that I could possibly say about the Ambrose Brook. Well, was I in for a surprise, and a most captivating one at that! I arrived at just about 10:30 am, I was the only human around, and as I traversed the eastern side of the stream, I spied just one pair of mallards afloat on the lazy, meandering brook. The male’s plumage was blatantly obvious against the muddy, slow-moving current, whereas the female’s was camouflaged just about perfectly with the background: muddy water, brown earth, fallen leaves. The sky was overcast and the air was calm with a moderate 40 degree temperature that provided a welcome and silent capsule for my period of observation. My goal was to walk the bank, if possible on both sides, from a bit past the small waterfall all the way back to the footbridge and back again. And with this trajectory, nature provided me with a series of surprises.
I made my way south on the eastern side of the brook, a veritable flock of
mallard pairs came into view, comfortably resting on the water’s surface, the
first that I have seen in the entire year.
They gave me a slight if sneering glance, then turned away from me to
glide closer to the western bank. Secondly, as I walked along the bank farther
and farther from the street noise, I noticed that several trees had a
distinctive series of marks along the base up to about one foot, all around the
circumference of the trunk. I am not a
naturalist, but I wondered if by any chance it could be a family of beavers at
work. “Nah”, I said to myself, this
place has too many people around, “no way”.
Well, I suspect that I was proved wrong!
At another spot, a neatly chewed tree, gnawed to what looked like a
precise pencil point, had been felled and now was lying in the water, the
severed trunk just inches from the sad looking stump. “Aha!” I exclaimed, “nature wins again,
beavers’ resourcefulness as effective or more so as a mini-chainsaw”. I never did see any beavers but their handiwork
was a very good indicator of their presence.
At the farthest point away from the street, still on the eastern side of
the brook, felled trees were piled up very close to the water’s edge, and I
wondered whether that might be an indication of a lovely and cozy den. Hmmmm…..
crossing the footbridge to the western side of the brook, I was presented with
another of nature’s surprises. Now that
winter is officially upon us and foliage has died back both above my head and
below my feet, I was able to make my way about three quarters of the distance
to the small waterfall. As I walked
among the brown brush, fallen branches, and dormant grasses, it dawned on me
that the brook had on this western bank a lovely and wide flood plain well
below street level that I had never noticed before, given the presence of a
daunting array of vegetation, including some very fierce brambles that had
heartily discouraged my passage in previous visits. Wow!
Talk about hiding in plain sight!
I presume that this flood plain accepts the surplus of storm water that
occasionally overflows the banks of the brook, which is then absorbed into the
ecosystem, but in turn does not flood area streets … or basements. Nifty!
And two last affirmative surprises. Having crossed over once again to the eastern side, I noticed yet another storm water outlet that fed into the brook, close to the small waterfall. I had never noticed it before because of the verdant camouflage offered by the grasses that were presumably fed by its generous flow and overflow. It was right there all the time, but I had never seen it. It humbled me and made me smile – in this visit, I suspect that nature, anthropomorphized to be sure, was having a good chuckle at my expense because of my naiveté. To think that there would be ‘nothing more to see’ was pure hubris and I was given my comeuppance. In addition, the waterfall also had a surprise. Even though the water continues to flow, it was evident that it was starting to freeze at the base! The clumps of white ice shone unmistakably through the tumbling current, a solemn reminder that winter is upon us. I would have missed it if I had not walked closer to the waterfall than I had ever done on previous visits.
last surprise was not a very happy one.
As I made my way on both sides of the brook, I took note of several
places where the water was almost completely stagnant, where the current did
not have the opportunity to lend an active, cleansing presence. And in those small culverts at the water’s edge,
I noted that the water kept a glaze of oil slick of who knows what
composition. At first glance I had
guessed that the water might be beginning to freeze, but upon closer
inspection, the real reason for the discoloration was obvious: water pollution
of a chemical nature. Ugh.
So this was my visit, a combination
of wonder and despair. I plan to offer
in the coming weeks one last report, an estimation of the year’s trajectory as
applied to my original proposal for this project. Happy New Year, everyone! May nature be your guide and live in your
Editor’s note: The LRWP is regularly amazed by the behind-the-scenes work of municipal Green Teams, Environmental Commissions and other groups to advance environmental protections and restoration throughout the watershed. The South River Green Team shared their New Year’s Resolutions with us (see Mark Barry’s article below), and we think these goals are pretty inspiring. Are you part of a Green Team, Environmental Commission or other group with plans to tackle big (and small) environmental issues in your community? Share them with us, and we will post them on our blog as a way to encourage others to likewise prepare and act for a healthier watershed.
By Mark Barry, South River Green Team
Community Garden — creation of pollinator garden, bee keeping, bat houses, nursery for street tree replacement, flower nursery for community beautification projects, Adopt-a-Spot (or street) for clean-ups and beautification.
River Advocacy — flood plain restoration and tree planting, recommending creation of a local river advocacy community group and/or permanent inter-municipal advisory board, study riparian land use zoning, Blue Acres property reactivation, Brownfields inventory and landuse, flood resiliency.
Natural Resources — green infrastructure planning and implementation, assist in ERI/NRI research, review processes in Community Forestry Plan and tree planting/inventory.
Transparency and Open Government Taskforce — study and issue report of recommendations on improving access to government and records, produce a guide to preparing public body minutes, review public information and publicity efforts of the borough and school district.
Creative South River — encourage creative arts respecting inclusiveness and diversity, pursue arts funding and grants, mural installations to combat graffiti.
The main Green Team Committee will also continue to advocate for the environment and sustainability by pursuing Sustainable Jersey certification, make recommendations to the South River governing body and undertake public education efforts on all matters green.
See below for photos from a successful 2018 in South River
Charging station installed in July 2018 – Photo by Mark Barry
South River GT youth contingent outnumbers GT members – Photo by Mark Barry
Initiation of the South River community garden – Photo by Mark Barry