By Arianna Illa, Coordinator, Civic Engagement and Experiential Learning, Middlesex County College
The Watershed Sculpture Project: Middlesex County College
On Tuesday, November 21st of last year, students enrolled in Integrated Reading and Writing (ENG 096) at Middlesex County College (MCC) did something unusual for a typical college course. Rather than meeting in their classroom, they boarded a college van to travel to the Fox Road underpass, a stretch of road off the highway in Edison, NJ. This class excursion was the culminating event following a semester focused on reading, writing, discussing, and learning about environmental issues faced by local communities. In collaboration with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) and the Edison Environmental Commission, students planned and executed a community cleanup service project as part of the greater service learning initiative happening at the College.
Students Jessica Colon or Rahway (left) places trash in the bag held by Carolyn Muncibay of Old Bridge.
The cleanup involved spending 3 hours of class time bagging trash and recyclables along the underpass. The location of the cleanup was especially significant as it is uphill from the Raritan River. When it rains, trash and other contaminants travel downhill, further polluting the already vulnerable river. By the end of the cleanup, 17 bags of trash and recyclables, nine tires, a suitcase, car seats, as well as other large trash items were collected.
John Keller, Director of Education and Outreach of CoLAB Arts, assists students during the hand sculpture creation process.
During the cleanup, students selected one small trash item to bring back to campus. In collaboration with local arts advocacy organization CoLAB Arts, students created cement hand sculptures which are now on display in the MCC College Center in an exhibition titled The Watershed Sculpture Project: Middlesex County College. Each sculpture is of a student’s hand holding the trash item they saved from the cleanup.
The display demonstrates the large impact seemingly “small” amounts of littering can have on the environment as a whole, and likewise demonstrates the power of simple acts of stewardship (including stream clean-ups and socially engaged art) to effect positive environmental change. This work seeks to raise awareness of issues of environmental damage happening in the local community, and to prompts viewers to examine and reflect on their own relationship and interactions with the environment.
If your non-profit organization is interested in getting involved with service learning at MCC, please contact Arianna Illa, Coordinator of Civic Engagement and Experiential Learning, at email@example.com.
During the May 21 LRWP meeting, attendees were treated by an insightful and comprehensive presentation on the importance of forage fish and their essential role in a functioning ecosystem. Presenting this information was Zack Greenberg, a Senior Associate of The PEW Charitable Trusts. Zack explained the benefits of using a big picture approach to fishery management and elucidated the different regulatory acts that control the amount of fish being taken out of the water and endeavor to limit the complications of over-fishing.
Zack first provided an overview of The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the primary law that governs the management of marine fisheries and is responsible for the rebuilding of 43 previously over-fished populations since 2000. Though this law continues to be a significant step towards sustainable management practices, it is constantly targeted by politicians attempting to weaken the guidelines that limit over-fishing and the punitive measures taken when someone violates these guidelines. While the goal of the MSA is to prevent over-fishing while achieving optimum yield, it focuses on individual species and treats their population numbers as mutually exclusive from each other. On the other hand, Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management (EBFM) seeks to remediate this oversight by looking at the different marine species as interlocked pieces in the puzzle that is marine conservation. EBFM seeks to protect the deceptively insignificant forage fish that are actually the foundations for a thriving aquatic habitat. Forage fish include species like salmon, trout, herring, shad, alewives, menhaden, and so on.
By monitoring the fluctuations in population size for different marine species and establishing balance between the different trophic levels in the ocean, a big picture approach emphasizes the interspecies connections that make up an ecosystem. Though these forage fish are small and have little direct market value on their own, they provide an invaluable food source for many of the larger marine species. Removing this resource could have negative implications, not only on the environment, but also on the economy. Taking away the fish that provide nourishment for larger sea life (like marine mammals, sportfish, sharks, seabirds, etc.) can influence recreational activities and the businesses that rely on them. Innumerable coastal and riverine communities (including communities on the Raritan River and Raritan Bay) would lose tourism if they couldn’t provide visitors with opportunities such as fishing, boating, whale watching, and/or diving. The protection of these forage fish is not currently covered under the MSA, which leaves them very vulnerable.
Marine and freshwater ecosystems are connected by much more than just the water that flows between them. Multiple forage fish species, including alewives and herring, are anadromous, meaning they migrate from the sea to freshwater rivers in order to spawn. These same species are also suffering from radically low populations due to marine bycatch, which prevents adults from ever reaching their spawning destinations and successfully propagating the species (Hasselman et al, 2016). Along with the obstacle of bycatch, river damming also frequently impedes many fish from migrating upriver to spawn. Many river-focused attempts at repopulating forage fish species have been relatively unsuccessful due to the marine based causes of population decline (bycatch, over-fishing, habitat degradation, etc.) (West, 2017). With improved federal fishery management and strengthened marine conservation policies we can negate the damage we have inflicted not only on individual species but on the environment as a whole.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, the LRWP and other environmental groups that understand the tremendous value of the “small fish” encourage the public to stand up on the issue of declining forage fish populations. The public has until June 25 at 5 PM to provide comment to the New England Fishery Management Council on a “control rule” for Atlantic Herring fishing in New England. Pew is rallying signatures/letters in support of the Council creating a 50-mile coastal buffer from herring trawling and implementing a science-based control rule. Please consider signing Pew’s Action Alert, or send an email to the New England Fisheries Management Council to let them know that you care about New England’s coastal ecosystem and economy, and that you want them to extend a buffer zone to 50 miles offshore year-round in which midwater trawl fishing would not be allowed to operate.
Hasselman, D. J., Anderson, E. C., Argo, E. E., Bethoney, N. D., Gephard, S. R., Post, D. M., Palkovacs, E. P. (2016). Genetic stock composition of marine bycatch reveals disproportional impacts on depleted river herring genetic stocks. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences,73(6), 951-963. doi:10.1139/cjfas-2015-0402
It was a gloomy, rainy Saturday, but on May 12, more than 150 people joined the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Greater Brunswick Charter School, Esperanza Neighborhood Partnership, Friends of Mile Run Brook and Elmwood Cemetery for a multi-site community clean-up and celebration of New Brunswick’s Mile Run Brook.
Friends of Mile Run Brook
The clean-up was enlivened by our roving “Trash Troubadour” – Dave Seamon – who engaged our volunteers with song and stories as they cleaned-up the stream. Our Trash Troubadour traveled with a large sculptural bread-and-puppets style bottle (made from trash found during prior clean-ups) that clean-up volunteers covered with messages of environmental hope.
The clean-up was followed by a free community celebration and picnic in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park – with delicious contributions of dishes donated by Panico’s Brick Oven Pizza, La Poncena, Harvest Moon, Pizza Mia and Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.
At the end of the clean-up we joined together for a picnic and celebration, the Trash Troubadour created and performed a new song from the messages received.
Filmmaker Jessica Dotson is working on a music video story of the day – a gift for our Mile Run Brook and New Brunswick Community. But for now, click on the photo of our Trash Troubadour to enjoy a youtube video of his riverside performance:
With tremendous thanks to New Brunswick Department of Public Works, North Brunswick Department of Public Works and Rob Hughes, our Americorps Watershed Ambassador for helping with planning, coordination, supplies provision and arranging for disposal of the trash and recycling. Thanks also to the Highland Park Ecology and Environmental Group and Central Jersey Stream Team for bringing your muscle to the clean-up for the day!
Trash Collected at the Hamilton Street Site
Esperanza Neighborhood Project Volunteers!!
The Elmwood Cemetery volunteers (coordinated by the New Brunswick Environmental Commission), removed 14 bags of trash and 6 bags of recycling.
The Greater Brunswick Charter School removed approximately 1,275 pounds of trash and 720 pounds of recycling.
The Esperanza Group removed an estimated 875 pounds of trash and 390 pounds of recycling.
The Friends of the Mile Run removed about 400 pounds of trash and 210 pounds of recycling.
In addition, 20 bulk items and 6 tires were removed as well.
Collectively volunteers removed approximately 2 tons of litter and bulk items from Mile Run Brook!
Rose gets a green aluminum band affixed to her left leg and a silver band to her right leg. Green is the band color used by NJ and silver is a federal band. Each state uses a specific color to quickly identify a banded eagle’s origin.
Over last century as the northeast bald eagle population dwindled, their image flourished as a marketing tool to brand high end merchandise. Gilded eagles sat upon flag poles in parades and auditoriums. Dollar bills and quarters bore engraved, lone eagles, wings spread and talons flared, about to attack at the least provocation.
Never did any image show more than one eagle, even though they mate for life and are dedicated parents. As a generation, we came to know eagles as powerful solitary creatures frozen in iconic poses. There was nothing to challenge that image, the skies were empty and no shadows could be seen speeding across the land. Least of all in central NJ, a land reputed to be sanitized of nature.
Awareness of man’s place in the natural world and his impact on the environment began to be studied in universities like Rutgers College of Agriculture and Environmental Science in the late 1960s, which opened the door to a new era of enlightenment and activism. Books like Silent Spring and Sand County Almanac were the seeds sown to nourish the idea humans were not apart from the cascade of life that flowed, uninterrupted, from the soil and water to apex predators, like the eagle and peregrine falcon.
Eagle restoration in NJ began in earnest in the 1980s accompanied by an ever-growing accumulation of study data gleaned by observation and scientific research. Still the view of intimate eagle relationships and social interaction remained at a sky-high level and not well published for public consumption.
Eagles kept their privacy and legacy reputation as solitary creatures intact until the advent of live cameras, genetic mapping, banding and miniature transmitters.
As far as the public is concerned, it is the live cams, set above some nests and broadcast on the internet, that provide non-stop coverage of eagle antics in the aerie to feed an insatiable voyeuristic human appetite.
The forums that accompany these spy cams generate lively conversation and together, have created a whole new audience beyond those immersed in all things nature. People who can’t tell a snow goose from a snow bunting, are now addicted a wildlife reality show.
And addictive it is, as viewers and scientists both learn what goes on behind nest walls. As voyeurs watch, they see behaviors that mimic human responses. The eagle screaming at its partner could very well be a replay of last night’s argument with their spouse, “who never listens to a word I say”.
Cumulatively, what we see are personality differences among pairs of eagles, where before we had only anecdotal observations and generalized conclusions. We knew the eagle as a solitary warrior and now we see a great raptor dedicated to its mate and offspring. When we look closely into the world of an eagle we see a glimpse of ourselves.
Locally the intrigue has been riveting, with a ringside seat to a female ingénue coming between a mated pair, a harassing hawk obliterated by an annoyed eagle and tender moments of dedicated parents doting on their precious offspring.
We watch as courting behavior evolves into mating, egg laying and alternate job sharing, as pairs relieve each other from brooding duty. We see and hear the wailing of one parent when their mate fails to return, either through injury or death. You cannot be unaffected by that sight and sound as what you experience is automatically translated into human terms.
A live cam from another state showed a female eagle covering her three, day old chicks, as a late spring snowstorm raged. That moment was tender enough but then the male positioned himself alongside the female, resting his head on her shoulder and spread his wings to shield his mate and their chicks from the heavy snowfall; our collective tears flowed.
Recently an eagle that prematurely fell from a local nest was rescued, examined and found to be in good health. Given that one parent went missing in the weeks prior to the fall and it was impossible to return the bird to the nest, a decision was made to place that eagle in another nearby nest.
Armed with the knowledge of intimate eagle behavior and demonstrated dedication to their young, fostering that young eagle was done with full confidence it would be accepted and thrive.
Only time will tell but so far, so good. Years hence, if you see a bald eagle bearing a green leg band, engraved with E68, you now know the rest of the story. Consider an eagle that was killed, June 2015, in upstate NY by a car, was banded 38 years prior! So, eagle E68, affectionately named, Rose, and her foster siblings, E66 and E67 have a good chance to be seen by your grandchildren!
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.
On Saturday May 5 several partners helped the Borough of Bound Brook inaugurate its first kayak/canoe launch site. A partnership between the Borough and New Jersey American Water (NJAW) resulted in an access agreement to allow recreational use of private land, giving paddlers a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and NJAW allows the public to put their watercraft into the Raritan in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.
Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera and Council President Abel Gomez were joined by representatives of South Bound Brook; Somerset County; New Jersey American Water; Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings; the Raritan Riverkeeper; National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance; and members of the public for the ribbon cutting and launch ceremony on a beautiful spring day. Signs explaining how to use the access site with a map of downtown Bound Brook greeted launch users in English and Spanish.
Council President Abel Gomez noted: “This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists. This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. The launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”
In addition to the access to the River for paddlers, the Plan calls for the creation of a park along the waterfront from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook, including the development of a riverfront trail system for pedestrians and bicyclists using inactive rail corridor and a levee system. Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz explained that the “launch site will mean that paddlers can now travel all the way from Bound Brook downstream to Perth Amboy and the Raritan Bay, about 18 miles. Raritan River recreation complements the land-based recreation currently available on the south side of the river, as part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park.”
The Borough is receiving technical assistance from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders, including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings, and members of the Bough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
A partnership between the Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will give kayak and canoe enthusiasts a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and New Jersey American Water allows the public to put their watercraft into the River in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.
“This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists,” said Bound Brook Council President Abel Gomez.
“This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. This launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”
In addition to the access to the River for kayaks and canoes, the Plan calls for an open space along the waterfront, from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook. This would include the formalization of a Bound Brook Riverfront Trail System for pedestrians and bicycles and a creation of a riverfront park. The Plan can be found by going to this url: http://boundbrook-nj.org/MasterPlan/RiverAccessPlan
The Borough received a technical assistance award from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program in 2017 and 2018. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer, and members of the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
The Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will formally open Bound Brook’s Riverfront Access Launch at noon on Saturday, May 5, 2018. The launch is located under the Queens Bridge in Bound Brook. RSVP required.
For more information about the kayak and canoe launch site or to RSVP for the ribbon cutting ceremony, contact Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera 732-893-8520.
The LRWP has posted previously about the Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement (Transco NESE) Project Transcontinental Pipeline proposal that would effect much of the Lower Raritan Watershed. The Transco NESE Project would travel through the Lower Raritan Watershed towns of Franklin Township, South Brunswick, Sayreville and Old Bridge and under Raritan Bay. NESE involves the construction of 2 pipelines and a compressor station. These pipelines are intended to transport 400,000 dekatherms per day of fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City. None of this natural gas would be used to the benefit of New Jersey residents. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now accepting public comment at open house sessions and in writing.
The LRWP is concerned that the NESE pipeline will further fragment the already significantly fragmented natural habitats of the Lower Raritan Watershed. We are concerned about the effects of potential pipeline leaks or ruptures. And we are concerned that installing yet another way to transport fossil fuels will push off action on moving toward renewables, which we desperately need to consider in this age of peak fossils.
Last week the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC released the Draft Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statements. They are available here.
We are encouraging watershed residents that they consider the following:
-submitting a petition the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) for a Health Impact Analysis of the project
-submitting a petition to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to not award construction permits for this project
-requesting Williams Partners (the natural gas infrastructure company) to withdraw its proposal
Public comment will be accepted until May 14, with meetings held at the following dates and times:
April 25, 5-9pm at George Bush Senior Center, Old Bridge, NJ
April 26, 5-9pm at Best Western Gregory Hotel, Brooklyn, NY
**May 2 5-9pm at Franklin Township Community Center, 505 Demott Ln, Somerset, New Jersey 08873
May 3, 5-9pm at Solanco High School, Quarryville, PA
**the LRWP is co-hosting a pre-hearing conversation from 4-6pm at this location.
We encourage you to consider project impacts on your community and our watershed and Raritan Bay habitat, and to share your concerns either via letter or at one of the public hearings.
SCRAP-NESE provides updates on opposition to Transco’s Northeast Supply Enhancement proposals for gas pipelines through the Lower Raritan Watershed and under Raritan Bay.
Even after today’s snow has melted and flowed from our streets, through our stormwater system, and out to Raritan Bay, our local streams and the Raritan River will carry the scars of our desire to drive quickly in wintry conditions.
Too often we forget that the salt we apply to our streets, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks is a pollutant that permanently stays in our water bodies and groundwater.
As we imagine warm summer days playing in the surf on the Jersey shore, basking in the sun and tasting salt spray, let’s remember that the salts we put on roadway surfaces ends up in our waterways. These salts increase the mobilization of heavy metals and other pollutants in roadside soils, causing erosion and aiding transport of pollutants into our waterways.
It is the case that in urbanized areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed, the first flush of meltwater is two-to-three times as salty as ocean water. We can float in the ocean because salty water is more dense than freshwater, and sinks to the bottom. Salts likewise sink to the sediments in our freshwater bodies, where they decrease oxygen levels, essentially strangling the animals that live in the benthic (bottom) layer.
These bottom-dwelling animals (benthic macroinvertebrates) are some of the most sensitive species in our ecosystem. They form the base of the food chain, and when they die off, the creatures higher up on the food chain, including fish, can’t find food.
Salt is toxic, but necessary for public safety. We are all part of the problem with over applying it, and all part of the solution, too. The top five things you can do now:
In winter, drive for the season. Our collective demand for perfectly-cleared roads is a major barrier to protecting our waterways
Ask your municipal and county leaders what they are doing to minimize salt usage on public roads.
Hire maintenance firms that have taken salt application training.
Minimize your personal use by removing snow quickly and distributing only about one coffee mug of salt for a typical driveway.
Be sure to clean up any leftover salt, sand, and de-icer to save and reuse as needed.
With grant support from the Middlesex County Office of Arts History, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and coLAB Arts will implement the first component of the #lookfortheriver Public Art Program in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park in Summer 2018. The grant will allow for engineering and construction of a footing (the base) for a new public art piece for New Brunswick’s Boyd Park. The creative work to be installed at that site will serve both environmental/watershed awareness and cultural/community engagement purposes for the Raritan River waterfront at that site. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders through a grant provided by New Jersey State Council on the Arts / Department of State.
The #lookfortheriver Public Art Program is a component of the LRWP’s #lookfortheriver watershed restoration campaign, which is designed to encourage community members to “look” for buried streams using landscape cues and historical research. #lookfortheriver is a package of actions communities can engage in around flood resilience and environmental restoration. The LRWP will be rolling out aspects of the #lookfortheriver campaign through 2018 and 2019.