Good Bye Dam!

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The large letters written in white chalk on the old concrete dam simply said, “good bye dam”. That sentiment was accompanied by other names and sketches, not unlike a farewell card signed for a departing fellow co-worker.

The dam on the Lamington River at Burnt Mills was scheduled for removal after several iterations of mills beginning in early colonial times circa 1754.

Dams and mills came and went on New Jersey rivers and streams. Some destroyed by floods, fire or angry upstream neighbors deprived of migrating fish. British troops did their part and burned the mill on the Lamington, in Bromley, which was henceforth named Burnt Mill. These days the dams are being removed by private organizations and groups in cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Service. These organizations are dedicated to the restoration of rivers and the downstream benefits to native wildlife and soil stability.

Hundreds of dams across the country have been removed or are being scheduled for removal. The results are, for the most part, shockingly positive. From California to Maine, stories of returning fisheries, reduction in sediment accumulation, reduced flooding and a greater diversity of wildlife have been documented.

Every dam is its own story, its significance dependent on location. Downstream of the Lamington, on the lower Raritan, removal of dams allowed the upstream travel of anadromous fish.

In colonial times, netting alewives and shad as far upstream as Raritan, generated a profitable commercial fishery. Mills and dams put an end to that business.

Most early mills were situated on feeder streams to avoid seasonal floods and raging current. The Lamington dam was perfectly situated in that regard.

Mature trees lined the banks to stabilize the soil and as a result the stream bed suffered minimal erosion during seasonal flooding. Runoff was minimal due to the surrounding land being unsuitable for farming. Even today as development has exploded, the stream bed of the upper Lamington and Rockaway is mostly sand and gravel. The difference is striking when compared to the nearby lower South Branch which suffers from erosion and a build up of silt.

This image above the Burnt Mills dam captures the character of the Lamington and South Rockaway. Mature trees lock in the soil and a heavy canopy shades the shallow water. 

The low concrete dam across the Lamington had been breeched in the early 1950s and misdirected the streamflow into the opposite shore causing severe erosion. An aerial view comparing the intact structure in 1953, to breeched version in 1956, shows the progress of the resulting erosion. An aerial view as seen today, compared to 1956, is even more dramatic.

The image on the top shows the intact dam in 1953. The image on the bottom shows the impact of erosion caused by the breeched dam in three years time in 1956.

The Lamington is the recipient of water released from Cushetunk Lake and Round Valley reservoir via South Rockaway creek as well as runoff from extensive upstream development. The added flow into the lower Lamington has hastened its meandering as directed by impervious shale cliffs and the concrete dam. Concrete walls designed to prevent erosion, speed the streamflow otherwise slowed by natural shorelines. Concrete walls line an upstream golf course, and another wall lines an outside curve along the road about a half-mile above the dam. During times of planned water release and seasonal storms, the water volume and speed create a high-pressure nozzle at the point of the breeched dam. The sum of upstream water, that makes up the Lamington, flows around a sharp bend a few hundred yards above the dam, careens off the high straight wall of red shale, slams into a concrete barrier perpendicular to its flow, then left, into a bank of unstable soil.

Free flowing rivers exhibit pure energy and it is energy and movement that define life. Science aside, it is the magic of perpetual motion and endless flow that we embrace. Flowing water is a magic carpet which requires no effort to travel, whether it be by vessel or imagination.

Any interruption of the energized free flow is representative of progressive pathology and an existential threat. The ‘damnation’ of rivers and streams represent stasis, blockages and clots; their removal, a life saving intervention.

So it was, the landmark Burnt Mill dam came down. Mixed feelings for those whose youthful memories were cast into the concrete substructure. The sight of the dam served as a reminder of an idyllic time and sunny days. A momentary retreat from the harsh reality that, on occasion, bites us all, was erased.

The removal was well planned and orchestrated as opposed to a charge of dynamite and a call of, ‘fire in the hole.’

The course of the river needed to be shifted and so large boulders were placed strategically to form the foundation of a left bank to replace that which was lost.

A 323 Caterpillar excavator fitted with tracks, moved into the river above the dam and began to scoop river bed gravel to line the upstream side of the length of the concrete dam. Apparently, this prevented water from flooding the work area during removal. Boulders in place, a second 323 Cat positioned on the downstream side, fitted with a ram driven spike, began to break up the concrete starting at the midstream end, working toward the right shore. It appeared the first foot and a half was easily penetrated. The second and third pass strained the hydraulic ram, the concrete’s resistance futile. After each session with the spike, the front-end loader scooped up the rubble and dumped it in-line with the boulders to form a new shoreline. The effort continued and half the dam was broken up and redistributed in about four hours.

Before and after images show the progress of the removal. Images 3 and 8 are the same view. Images 1 and 7 represent the same view. This work took place over three days.

Work continues as the removal of the dam was the first step in restoring the Lamington to its original course, pre-1754.

A new generation will know a different river, just as the last generation knew only a river interrupted by a dam.

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 See more articles and photos at

LRWP comments on NJDEP Integrated Report

The LRWP submitted the letter below in response to NJDEP request for public comment on the proposed 2016 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waters, including the Lower Raritan, South River and Lawrence Brook Watersheds (WMA9). This “Integrated Report” is prepared pursuant to Section 305(b) of the Federal Clean Water Act to meet requirements to biennially prepare and submit to the USEPA a reporting addressing the overall water quality of the State’s waters, including support of designated uses.

October 16, 2019

TO: Jack Pflaumer, Environmental Scientist 1 / New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

RE:         DRAFT 2016 New Jersey Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report for the Raritan Water Region

Dear Mr. Pflaumer –

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) is New Jersey’s newest watershed association, representing the state’s Lower Raritan Watershed. Partners include county, municipal and academic entities, as well as community garden, environmental, fishing, boating, student, business, service and other community interests. Our mission is to restore, enhance, and conserve, the natural resources of New Jersey Watershed Management Area 9 through science-based stewardship, education and innovation.

The LRWP appreciates the NJDEP’s basin-wide approach to pollutant modeling in the 2016 Integrated Report for the Raritan Water Region, and likewise appreciates the attention it gives to upstream impacts which affect the entire Raritan Basin. However, we feel the NJDEP approach falls short in significant ways. We have a number of specific concerns:

  1. NJDEP fails to include Watershed Management Areas 7 and 9 in the 2016 Total Maximum Daily Load Report addressing Total Phosphorus, Dissolved Oxygen, pH and Total Suspended Solids impairments.

We understand that the 2016 TMDL Report is a study of non-tidal waters. However, no justification for focusing solely on non-tidal waters at the exclusion of WMA9 and WMA7 – a significant portion of the Raritan Basin – is provided. Furthermore, aside from brief mention of the need for watershed based plans (pp 64-65) there is no indication in the 2016 Integrated Report of when TP, DO, pH and TSS pollutant reduction planning will begin for the tidal and adjacent watershed areas of the Raritan Basin, or how this might proceed

2.The 2016 Integrated Report presents an inadequate assessment of pathogens (enterococcus) in our Lower Raritan waters.

In fact, we do not see evidence in the report or appendices that the Lower Raritan River waters have ever been formally monitored for enterococcus. Without adequate analysis and reporting of pathogens in the SE1 waters of the estuary, including the inland portion of the Raritan River, the quality of the state’s waters is overstated on page 29 of the report: “A net zero change in Enterococcus listings reflects the continued excellent recreational water quality in New Jersey’s ocean waters, as well as stable conditions in the bays and estuaries.”

3. Page 32 of the 2016 Integrated Report fails to include Monmouth County as a constituent of the Raritan Water Region.

It is critical that NJDEP includes all portions of the Raritan Basin, including the tidal and associated watershed areas of WMA9 and WMA7, in comprehensive water quality planning. Failure to include areas of WMA9 and WMA7 in water quality analyses, in TMDL development for pollutants like TP, DO, pH and TSS and enterococcus, and in watershed based planning efforts, significantly compromises water protection in areas where the majority of the Basin’s population reside.

Failure of NJDEP to include all portions of the Raritan Basin in these analysis and planning activities has repercussions. Federal funding for conservation and restoration of our waterways and watersheds is prioritized based on planning and implementation of projects that address water quality impairment through implementation of NPS pollution controls, including those specifically identified in approved TMDL implementation. NJDEP’s failure to ensure that areas like WMA9 and WMA7 that do not have TMDLs or watershed based plans puts these areas at tremendous disadvantage in seeking federal funds to protect our local waters and watersheds.

The LRWP requests a meeting with NJDEP to discuss the above, and to develop a strategic plan for prioritized approaches for pollutant management in the tidal portions and other overlooked areas of the Raritan Basin. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.


Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP

President and Founder, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Pathogens Results 10.10.2019

It’s a wrap! Our 20 week summer monitoring program closes out on a high note – our best results all summer!! HUGE THANKS to the wonderful volunteers who gave generously of their time to get water quality data out there for public use. Thanks also to our amazing EARTH Center of Middlesex County and Rutgers partners, and the Interstate Environmental Commission for running labs.

Raritan River Enterococci results for 10.10.19. Results reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL. Please note: results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.

#NYNJCitizenScience #NYNJCommunityScience

Pathogens report for October 2, 2019

Raritan River pathogens (enterococci) report for October 2, 2019. Results are reported in Colony Forming Units or cfus. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL. Please note these results are preliminary and awaiting quality control.

2019-2020 NJ Employees Charitable Campaign

The LRWP is excited to announce that we are included in the roster for the 2019/2020 New Jersey Public Employees Charitable Campaign!

This means that New Jersey Public Employees – people who work at municipal, county, state or public universities like Rutgers – can make a one-time or on-going donation pledge through payroll deduction to our very deserving Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

For those of you whose employers participate, in the coming days you will receive an email directly from the campaign administrator with further instructions and information. Please consider donating to the LRWP, our ID is #8149.

We encourage you to review the materials and consider making a one-time or ongoing donation pledge through payroll deduction. All contributions are welcome! Contributing just a few dollars from each paycheck can make a huge impact on the health of our watershed, and on the lives of those in our watershed communities.  

Donations are tax deductible, and donations made through payroll deduction would begin with the first paycheck in calendar year 2020.

Thank you in advance for your support of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. If you have questions about the LRWP you can contact us at #908.349.0281. If you have questions about the New Jersey Employees Charitable Campaign you can contact the New Jersey Employees Charitable Campaign Help Desk at, or via phone at (800) 458-9505.

Summer Raritan Pathogens Monitoring in the News!

There has been a fair amount of attention to our pathogens monitoring program in the news the last week:




TAPinto Somerville:

We’re not thrilled with the Star Ledger headline, but we’ll take a bit of sensationalism if it prompts action to clean up the Raritan 🙂

We want to remind folks that our monitoring program is designed to provide the public with access to water quality data so they can make informed choices about whether to fish, kayak, swim or otherwise recreate around the water. These are weekly “snapshots” of water quality – captured for a very changeable body of water. It is true that the pathogens numbers (enterococci) for recent weeks are not what we would want to see. But we have not run analyses, and there are many seasonal, tidal, off-shore and site-specific explanations for problems that are not described. Basically there is much more to report about the sites and the data that the reporters miss.

We also want to remind folks of the great number of ways that they can reduce their own personal contribution to local water quality issues. For example: homeowners can minimize or remove hard surfaces on their property, avoid using fertilizers or pesticides on lawns, mow less frequently or choose native plants over lawns, increase riparian buffers around streams and rivers, and work to improve habitat connectivity.

Want to help bring more attention to the Raritan? Please join us, and encourage family, teacher friends and others to join us for our “Facebook Live” event on Thursday October 17. We will broadcast starting at 10 am from the Rutgers Agriculture and Natural Resources facebook page. Registration info here:

Oct 16 Deadline for Public Comments on Raritan Integrated Report

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is seeking public comment on the proposed 2016 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waters. This is the Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report (Integrated Report) that has a focus section on the state’s Raritan Water Region, which includes the Lower Raritan, South River and Lawrence Brook watersheds (WMA 9), the North and South Branches of the Raritan River watersheds (WMA 08), the Stony Brook and Millstone River watersheds (WMA 10) as well as the Elizabeth, Rahway and Woodbridge River watersheds (WMA 07). The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is preparing comments to submit to NJDEP, and will share our comments on this website in coming days.

The Integrated Report is prepared pursuant to Section 305(b) of the Federal Clean Water Act to meet requirements to biennially prepare and submit to the USEPA a reporting addressing the overall water quality of the State’s waters, including support of designated uses.  The NJDEP is also required to develop a list of waters that currently do not meet, or are not expected to meet, applicable water quality standards after implementation of controls.  This is known as the 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waters (303(d) List).  The 303(d) List includes a priority ranking for scheduling total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), as well as identifying TMDLs expected to be completed in the next two years.

Follow these links to more information:

Public Notice
Draft Executive Summary for the 2016 Integrated Report:
Draft Integrated Report:
NJDEP Raritan Water Region webpages (and other related Integrated Report documents):
Background and 2016/17 Stakeholder Engagement:

Submit comments by October 16, 2019 via email to or by regular mail to:  Jack Pflaumer, Environmental Scientist 1, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water Monitoring and Standards, Bureau of Environmental Analysis, Restoration and Standards, P.O. Box 420 (Mail Code 401-041), 401 East State Street, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0420.

A Final Blast of Flaming Fluorescence

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Another autumn, like no other, passes through an ageless portal, as all seasons must.
Autumn’s final blast of flaming fluorescence is embodied in these black oak leaves that appear to be on fire.

A profusion of spider webs and hopeful strands of silk, looking for a second anchor point, weave throughout the late August woods in an attempt to hold the fleeting summer hostage.

Though the formidable silken net poses enough of an obstruction to divert a hiker’s footsteps, its hold on summer goes unnoticed by the celestial choreography that declares the arrival of autumn.

Color begins to appear as careless drips and blotches on the faded green palette left behind by summer. Scattered specks of yellow mist the crown of a wild cherry tree, as if clearing the sputtering nozzle on a can of yellow spray paint.

Deep scarlet splashes onto leafy vines of virginia creeper to appear as strands of a necklace lying against the perennial greenery of an eastern red cedar.

Swaths and stripes of color appear in fields and resemble an artist’s palette, holding an array of colored oils.

Fields offer the greatest diversity of any stage of plant succession and so, are showcases of color in the fall. The earliest news of the changing seasons is published in full color ads in open fields for all to read.

Pokeweed, drooping with clusters of deep purple-black inkberries, standout among the yellow swaths of fully blossomed goldenrod. The main stem of pokeweed always gets a second glance as it appears to be some odd placed artifact that does not belong. The arrow straight magenta stems are so dramatic in color they deserve a long moment of admiration simply for the boldness of nature’s artistry.

Native cardinal flowers which favor damp soil, is a personal favorite, which signals that the end of summer is near. Blooms begin mid-August and last well into September. A favorite of humming birds, this small, delicate tube-shaped flowers glow with a flat reddest red fluorescence and contrast beautifully against pale green cattail leaves, which often grow nearby. If ever a color was to catch your eye it would be an isolated cardinal flower bloom that glows with the power of a lighthouse beacon.

Bright purple ironweed, swamp and common milkweed add to the scene of fall color. Begging a closer look, an isolated stand of ironweed or a yellow swallowtail butterfly on a cluster of milkweed, often offers a surprise in exchange for curiosity. Hidden among the dominant grasses and blooming plants, hide the volunteers. Long thin pods of dogbane, used to make bowstrings and cordage, odd placed wildflowers or other cultivated escapees, find safe harbor and anonymity within these trackless fields.

An isolated single plant of Beardtongue penstemon was an unexpected surprise hiding in obscurity among the dominant field grasses

As summer begins and ends with colorful flowers, and Autumn, bearing genes of summer parentage, carries on that tradition of color in a final blast of flaming fluorescence.

Black gum and native persimmon begin the lightshow, subtly at first. Random isolated leaves are electrified and take on the appearance of old fashioned decorative light bulbs, salmon and orange, respectively.

The concocted color combinations composed of various tints used during the early seasonal transition, now overflow, mix and explode in brilliant colors used by October to paint the tree tops.

Oak and sweet gum take the full blast of color shot from October’s paint gun. Add a clear autumn day under full sun and blaze orange oak leaves absolutely glow against the blue sky.

The sweet gum produces a kaleidoscope of color ranging from shades of reddish purple to pure red, maroon, orange and yellow. Individual trees favor one color over the other but all sweet gums offer the complete spectrum of possible tints and shades.

It’s fun to imagine, spiders, as in Charlotte’s Web, spelling out the word, AUTUMN, in silken letters, to foretell the coming season.

Another autumn, like no other, passes through an ageless portal, as all seasons must, only to reappear and fade and reappear and fade again. The ephemeral concept of life seems at odds with the reality of nature.

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 See more articles and photos at

Encounter with a Gray Ghost

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The elusive gray ghost of Native American mythology appears out of the river’s mist, as we stare into each other’s eyes.

February fourth, late afternoon, marked a close encounter with a gray ghost I have been chasing for decades. Face to face at eighteen paces, the apparition materialized out of the river’s mist. So close, our eyes met as I looked unavoidably through the lens of its honey-brown/yellow eyes and into its soul.

Just as an opening act raises the energy of the audience, three terrified deer ran past moments before on the same trail and I do not use the word ‘terrified’ lightly.

I quickly picked up the camera in anticipation of more deer running through the constricted pass. I was sure there would be a second act, though had no idea what it might be.

To my amazement, shock and awe, a coyote appeared. I always wondered if I could tell a coyote from someone’s pet dog. Well I’m here to tell you, the recognition was instant and left no doubt which canine version stood before me.

The eyes, the yellow eyes, commanded full attention at that close a distance. The coyote’s mottled gray fur blended so perfectly into the leaf covered ground, its eyes appeared as two gleaming orbs hovering, unattached, in the air, above the ground.

The eyes, those yellow eyes, were a personal invitation afforded to me as a momentary portal through which to view the heart of a wild spirit.

The coyote is a mythological character come to life whose reputation for intelligence and adaptability is well documented in ancient tribes’ oral histories. Amazing, our interaction with coyotes in ancient times has continued unabated to this day. The coyote appropriately goes by any one of several aliases, yotes, song dog, brush wolf, prairie wolf, so fitting for a reputed trickster as described in the myths of many early cultures.

Originating in the west, coyotes have migrated east on their own, as well as spread by intentional redistribution. The first documented sighting of a coyote in NJ is reported to be 1939 and today they have been reported in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Song dogs have been legal game in NJ since 1998. Many states have been conducting genetic studies on coyotes and some, like NJ require the killing of a coyote by legal means or roadkill, be immediately reported to the state division of fish and wildlife.

The eastern coyote is generally much larger than its western cousin. The largest coyote has been reported at 55 pounds, though they average much less. DNA sampling has documented coyotes and wolves have mated, which may explain the larger size and the color variation in their coats. Coyotes will, on rare occasion, mate with dogs and are referred to as coydogs.
Coyotes are now well established in our area and often, a red or gray fox will be mistaken for a coyote. The visual differences between the two species are dramatic, size and coloration the most obvious.

Coyotes have always been at the center of controversy, especially in the west where livestock depredation is a concern. Their adaptability includes a diet so varied as to take advantage of whatever fare is available. That menu may include pets, insects, plants or poultry. Coyotes have been trapped, poisoned and shot and yet persist in viable populations in close proximity to man, thus have earned a ghost-like reputation. Someone once said of a coyote, ‘if you turned a coyote loose on a tennis court it could disappear behind the net!”

In the court of popular opinion, defenders stand opposed.

A doctor I know was nonplussed at my excitement of encountering a coyote. He regularly sees them on his property and one often comes to play with his 110-pound German shepherd.

Another strong proponent and defender of coyotes is Geri Vistein, who has written a great book, “I Am Coyote”. Geri also has a website and Face Book page, “Coyote Center, Carnivores, Ecology and Coexistence”. Geri explains that coyotes are an indispensible part of our living web of life and points out coyote management errors that add to the problem of negative human/ coyote interaction.

However you view coyotes, this wild and untamed spirit, wrapped in gray fur, is worthy of admiration. If you love dogs, it is not a leap to extend that feeling to their wild cousins. But be warned, not everyone shares that love.

It is quite a feat for any species to have flourished in times gone by and still maintain genetically viable numbers in the midst of an expanding human population and chronic loss of natural habitat.

The coyote remains more of mythological character of dubious existence, as it is rarely ever seen; you are more likely to hear a chorus of melodious howls on a cold and still winter night than to ever see a coyote. As with any sound in the night, its source and location are left to pure speculation which only deepens the mystery of the gray ghost’s existence. Doubt creeps in when your eyes fail to confirm what your ears hear.

For more information on coyotes see the link on the NJ Fish and Wildlife site.

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 See more articles and photos at

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