June 8 BioBlitz at Elmwood Cemetery!

Registration is now live for the June 8 BioBlitz at Elmwood Cemetery!

A BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. At a BioBlitz, scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to get a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity.

On June 8 the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) and partners including the Americorps Watershed Ambassadors Program, New Brunswick Environmental Commission, North Brunswick Environmental Commission, and Elmwood Cemetery will host a day long BioBlitz of Elmwood Cemetery in North Brunswick.

Elmwood Cemetery is a special forested habitat refuge nestled between the urban New and North Brunswick communities. The Cemetery was established in 1868 as a “Victorian Garden Cemetery” during the rural cemetery movement, and to this day all of Elmwood’s lanes and paths are lined with evergreens and flowering native trees. Cemetery managers are building on this legacy of careful planning and land protections to secure Arboretum accreditation, which will allow them to further advance the planting, study, and conservation of woody plants and trees in the area.

Our BioBlitz will include public talks by expert naturalists about local natural history, and a chance for the public to work with these experts in an active survey of mammals, fish, plants, insects, aquatic invertebrates, birds and fungi. Our expert scientists will be stationed at various locations at Elmwood Cemetery to help participants engage in unique research. These scientists are our “team leaders.” We use teams to help organize the science and logistics so that we get as accurate a count as possible of the biodiversity of the area.

Our Expert Scientists:

  • Brionna Primiani (mammals), Wildlife Specialist with New Jersey Wildlife Services
  • Chuck Sedor (fish), New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife in the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries
  • Michele Bakacs (plants), Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County
  • Trisha Nichols (insects), Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion
  • Von Scully (aquatic invertebrates) NJ Watershed Ambassadors
  • Laurie Gneiding (birds), NJDEP Ornithologist/Ecologist; NJ Audubon Society
  • Randy Hemminghaus (fungi), The New Jersey Mycological Association

For more information, and to register, see our BioBlitz events page!

Hidden Natural Treasures Revealed by Invitation of the Rain

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Access to some of the tributaries feeding the North and South Branch of the Raritan River is strictly a trail blazing event. The rewards are worth the effort.

Like a spectacular desert flower that only blooms after a rain, many tributaries of the Raritan river’s North and South Branch suddenly blossom into navigable waterways if only for a brief moment.

These ephemeral watery threads weave though otherwise inaccessible places of pristine beauty and undisturbed wildlife. Visitation is exclusively by invitation of the rain. The chance of appropriate water level matches the odds of winning at roulette. However, the opportunity to enjoy runnable water is increased, as it can occur at any time of the year, unlike many northeast rivers that are seasonally dependent on melting snow and large drainage areas.

One jewel of a stream went a full year before the shadow of my canoe silently passed over its sandy bottom in time with the midsummer freshet racing to the sea. The rarity of such a small stream sojourn increases the value of the experience.

The appearance of an apparition is the best way to describe the transformation of a small tributary into a navigable waterway. Water that lazily followed a convoluted path through a twisting labyrinth of exposed rocks, now flows over them with self-determination. The exposed stream bed is flushed clean of fallen leaves and broken branches while smaller rocks and stones are subtly rearranged into future sand bars and shoals.

For many years I had my eye on a tributary of the South Branch too shallow to run and whose character was totally unknown to me. On these small streams, strainers, trees that span the watercourse from bank to bank can be life threatening, especially in high water with minimal possibility for evasive action. Even on the main course of the North and South branch, strainers have claimed paddlers’ lives.

So, it was with caution that I approached what I considered to be a reasonable water level, after studying the historic stream gauge data. The possibility of another as yet undiscovered eagle nest, was also a consideration in choosing this stream.

While not situated in the wilderness, a solo trip like this, even in central New Jersey, is not to be taken lightly. I checked topo maps as well as aerial views and road maps to confirm my location at any given point.

Though I certainly wasn’t the first to paddle this stream, it sure felt that way. The initial stretch was one of several locations where the water level could be viewed from the road and rarely were the midstream rocks covered with water. Today, however, I floated easily, inches above the largest rocks. Five minutes later I was out of sight, around the first bend and on my way to explore the unknown. A very strange thought to have amid the congestion of central New Jersey; a little kid’s fantasy come to life.

The scenery did not disappoint, hardwood trees dominated the shoreline and formed a wide greenway to serve as a protective margin against runoff from cultivated land and residential properties. The intimacy of the stream’s narrow course bought both banks into view while looking straight ahead.

Bare red shale outcroppings provided a cutaway of the contours seen on the topographic map. Some more dramatic than others.

At the point of highest elevation, through which the stream cut its course, a palisade of red shale stood so high, it felt as if I were paddling through a canyon. Atop the sky scraping cliff stood a wall of giant trees which appeared to be on the same plane as the cliff face. Their combined height and singular appearance could not be taken in with just a tilt of the head and an upward glance. It was as if the trees were standing on the earth’s shoulders in a successful effort to touch the sky.

As is characteristic of these small streams, changes happen quickly and dramatically.

One moment later, the unobstructed view of the blue sky and towering prominence vanished, as a sharp bend in the again green canopied river, demanded my full attention. Here, the main current was rushing to the inside of the almost angular curve and through the branches of a fallen tree. Several forceful draw strokes were required to avoid entanglement.

The rest of the trip was easily navigated through a few rock gardens and shoals. Deer were everywhere, while a pair of geese and a few wood ducks provided a downriver escort, warning the world of my otherwise silent approach.

No eagles were to be seen, though a close encounter with a great horned owl made up for the absence of a new eagle nest site. I eagerly await my next rain drenched invitation to another, one of many, tributary paddling options.

Each tributary has its own character, no two alike, other than they share invitation by rain only.

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.

Five ways to celebrate infrastructure week

By LRWP Board Member, Doriann Kerber

Infrastructure Week has finally arrived! We’ve been waiting for this all year. (No, really!)

Infrastructure Week, May 13 thru 20, is dedicated to understanding the importance of good infrastructure to our public health, quality of life, ability to cook our food, power our devices, get to work. Investment in infrastructure is an investment in our economic future.

Power companies are busy making investments in upgrading the electric grid to be ready for future growth, and developing new sources of energy to meet the challenges of climate change. Anyone who has been for a drive along New Jersey’s roads, or a ride on NJ Transit, is well aware of the need for new investment in our transportation systems. New Jersey has established ways to pay for necessary energy and transportation improvements.

There is one more important category that is often forgotten when we talk about infrastructure — our water systems. Most of us take for granted when we turn on the tap we get safe, clean water, and when we flush the toilet our wastewater is carried safely to a treatment plant. Infrastructure Week is a good opportunity for us to remind ourselves this does not happen without investment. Here are five ways to learn more about the importance of your water systems:

• Tour a sewage treatment plant. This is not as gross as it sounds! On Thursday, May 16, Jersey Water Works, the statewide coalition dedicated to upgrading our water infrastructure systems, is hosting a tour of the Asbury Park wastewater treatment plant. Meet at the plant, 1700 Kingsley St., Asbury Park, at 3:00 pm. The tour lasts about 90 minutes. It’s free and registration is required. Bonus: Networking happy hour afterwards at Anchor’s Bend Brewery, in the arcade at the Asbury Park Convention Center.

• Ask the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Catherine McCabe, if your water is safe to drink. She will be at the Princeton Public Library for a panel discussion about the state of New Jersey’s drinking water on Tuesday, May 14, from 7 to 8:30 pm. The event is open to the public.

• Learn about green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is a more holistic way for towns to manage rainfall than just letting it run into storm sewers. The smart-growth policy nonprofit New Jersey Future is hosting a workshop in Evesham on Tuesday, May 14, from 6 to 8 pm, to introduce a toolkit they have developed to help towns make better use of this technique. The event is free and registration is required. 

• Learn about the link between green infrastructure and environmental justice. Hop on a free webinar Wednesday, May 15, at 1 pm, and hear Stacey Eriksen from EPA Region 8 and Andy Kricun from the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority discuss how green infrastructure can bring environmental, economic, and social benefits to the communities that need them the most. 

• Learn how your town can pay for better water infrastructure. Jersey Water Works and New Jersey Future have developed a guide to help towns and utilities applying to the state for money to improve water systems, and especially for financing green infrastructure initiatives. They’re sponsoring a public workshop on Thursday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to noon at the offices of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, 1085 Raymond Blvd., Newark, to explain the process and how to use the guide. The workshop is free and registration is required. 

Meet LRWP Board Member Missy Holzer

Interview by TaeHo Lee, Rutgers Raritan Scholar

LRWP Board Member Missy Holzer

LRWP Board Member Missy Holzer teaches environmental science courses in Chatham High School. During my senior year of high school, I took her AP Environmental Science class. Years later, we serendipitously ran into each other at a workshop hosted by the LRWP. The reunion of this generous teacher and her former student led to this interview at the Cook Student Center with the sunset of March soaking the floor in amber.

TaeHo Lee: Where are you from in the watershed, and how do you engage with and explore the watershed? What is your favorite thing to do in the watershed?

Missy Holzer: I grew up in Somerset New Jersey near the Raritan River. The Raritan River was my river. One of the things that I remember distinctly about the river from my childhood is that it used to flood quite a bit. We had many storms come through such as the remnants of hurricanes that flooded the little downtown of Bound Brook. And I just lived a couple miles away. So the big routine was that, after the flood, we would walk down to Bound Brook to see what the damage was all about. We looked at the waterline underneath the underpass of the Queen’s Bridge which spans the Raritan to connect Bound Brook and South Bound Brook. We could not always access the underpass because the water was so high, so we would go over the train tracks. As a young child I really didn’t understand flooding; I really didn’t understand the power of the river and all that it had to offer, and all the damage it could do. So for me it was just a marvel and one of those things that was just part of my life.

T: Do you still live in Somerset?

M: Yes, I live in a different part of Somerset. I have been back there for twenty years already. And I’m still in the Lower Raritan Watershed, in Franklin Township. Franklin Township is pretty big, and a part of it is a part of the Stony Brook Millstone watershed. Another small part of it is a part of the Lower Raritan Watershed.

T:  Watching the impacts of floods was a favorite activity?

M: It was one of my biggest memories of the River.  We used to bicycle along the river. But that memory of the frequent flooding was one of those things that was so big.

T: Did you ever do stream or river cleanups?

M: Cleanups? Back then? No! We never did cleanups! I grew up in an era when cleanups didn’t exist. I participate in cleanups now that I’m back in the community. The early 1970’s was around the time when the whole environmental movement was just getting started. So, no, clean-ups just weren’t a thing yet, although proper disposal of trash was a thing and littering was not!

T: Wow..

M: Coming a long way!

T: (Laughter)

M: For the good.

T: As an environmental educator, how do you want your students to engage in and with watersheds?

M:  They do engage in watersheds quite a bit in two different fashions. My AP environmental science students and I explore Great Swamp Watershed in Morris County with the assistance of the Great Swamp Watershed Association.  For their final course project, we visit three streams that enter the Great Swamp wetlands, and one where it drains out. The purpose of doing this is that as the water is going in, it’s picking up everything that’s running off the properties. So we have all those impervious surfaces that are contributing to the non-point source pollution going into the Great Swamp. The power of a swamp, a marsh, of wetlands and all these places is that they are great filters. You would expect the water going in would have one water chemistry and the water coming out to be another. You would expect the water going in to be pretty nasty whereas the water coming out to be a lot cleaner, if the wetlands are allowed to do what they are supposed to do. Students gathered the data that showed the swamp does purify water.

T: How did your students react to this project?

A: They loved being outside! They loved collecting the data. The whole point of the project was Watershed-friendly living. The students were tasked with coming up with ways that the community can protect their watershed. There are so many different aspects and ways that can do that, like making recommendations for taking care of your lawn, making recommendations for taking care of dog waste, etc. So with all those different types of recommendations they developed, the students did a presentation for community members.

T: That’s brilliant! What, in your view, are the primary issues that need to be addressed in the watershed?

M:  For the Lower Raritan there are two things. One is the amount of impervious surfaces, and understanding how that is related to the water quality. This issue is directly related to population and land use within the confines of the Lower Raritan Watershed. The other thing is engagement. People should have relationships with the Raritan River. People might cross it on a daily basis, but only look down once in a while. But if more people understand that it’s their river then they would take a little bit more ownership of it; they would understand it as a community resource that we all should take care of.  So I think if there’s a way that we can promote social aspects of the river, that would be a great way to ensure better water quality in the future.

T: I agree with you. I also think that people need to understand the concept of a watershed, because during outreach tabling for the LRWP, many people do not even know what a watershed is.

M: I hundred percent agree with you. Even starting with that little nugget — having a model of what a watershed is and showing them where their house is relative to the river, anything that’s on their driveway. All the things that are allowed to be put on the ground is going to change the chemistry of our watershed.

T: What is your vision for the LRWP?

M: My vision for the LRWP is to include as many people as possible as resources to further the betterment of the river and its watershed.

T: You are an environmental science teacher at Chatham High School. What is your role there? Can you provide insights into how we can best interact and communicate with young adults to address the needs of the LRW?

M: I teach environmental science in high school and other courses as well. When there’s a group of students who are interested in an environmental club then I serve as their advisor. The way to best communicate and interact with young adults is to get them involved, to get them outside. We hide our face too much with technology, and we don’t experience what it is like to be outside away from technology. If we can get as many students as possible outside to do water testing, or go for a hike and nature walk within the watershed with someone who is knowledgeable to point out few things, and have students actually explore and ask questions and have those questions answered, and also point out things that are challenges, I guarantee you that students will develop passion and want to address and fix those challenges!

T: What is your environmental teaching philosophy? In other words, when do you think that students learn best?

M:  That would be engaging them with real problems to solve. Students also learn best when they are involved in the process of learning. For instance, getting them involved in collecting data on their own – whether it’s looking at home energy audit so that they can look at their own energy usage. So connecting it back to their lives is I think going to allow the students digest the information a lot better than just learning from a textbook.

Mile Run Brook Clean-up 2018: The Video!

On May 12, 2018 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. 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. With thanks to all the volunteers for a great day of stewardship and celebration. And huge thanks to filmmaker Jessica Dotson for capturing this story of our wonderful New Brunswick, NJ community.

Red Shale Cliffs Mark the River’s Course

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The sentinel red shale cliffs host a garden of moss, wildflowers and lichens as they stand watch over the meandering South Branch. The wandering river has its way after honoring the boundary set by this shale outcrop

The meandering South Branch has changed much of its course over the decades, restrained in its wandering, only by the presence of red shale cliffs that mark its course.

In an area of rolling hills, flood plain and the absence of field stone, the last thing you’d expect to see is a cliff. The cliffs are an exposed edge to the earth’s crust, forced above ground by never ending geologic activity along a fault line.

Growing up along the lower Raritan, there wasn’t a cliff to be seen. So when I ventured upstream in later years, the presence of a cliff was a big deal. It added drama to my paddling adventures. A genuine, bonafide cliff, like the ones you see on TV and in the movies, where heroes hung by their finger tips and from which villains fell to their death.

To top it off, these cliffs are red, well really maroon, which set them apart from any other cliffs, most of which are composed of hard gray stone.

I cannot paddle past one of these outcroppings without looking for some sign of a petroglyph. Shallow carvings made in stone by paleo inhabitants. What paleo hunter/gatherer would not leave some indelible sign on those giant billboards untouched by seasonal floods? Haven’t found any, but still keep looking.

One thing I did find is a shale slab underwater, etched with the name, “J N Stout”, followed by a roman numeral. Stout is a name common to the area of some of the earliest settlers. That inscription still remains a mystery. It would make sense to use that cliff as a boundary marker, even early 20th century deeds listed trees and rocks to mark property lines.

Surely there must be some sign from paleo travelers scratched into those cliffs. Perhaps when the light is right, a shadow of a deer or a turkey will magically appear on that red stone tablet, a testimony to a successful hunt from post glacial times.

While not finding ancient artifacts of human origin, there are ancient travelers who set down roots in the cliff face. To my amazement, columbine, a native wild flower, flourishes only on the cliffs and flowers in the April/ May timeframe.

Portions of the cliffs, shaded from the sun, will be covered with a carpet of thick, dark green moss and scattered patches of the pale green lichens, to compliment the dark maroon shale.

It was beneath one high shaded cliff, notched with narrow ledges, that I silently walked, searching for photo ops. The cliff on one side and the river on the other, separated only by a few paces, my steps were confined to one narrow trail.

Suddenly, the sound of frantic scrambling in the leaf litter on a small ledge just above, got my full attention. A red fox had been sunning comfortably, protected from the wind and safe from any danger. Now, as it scrambled to escape my presence, it slipped and fell, as leaf litter rained down upon my head. Fortunately, the fox regained solid footing and headed for parts unknown.

The cliffs held another surprise for me as I paddled by on a bright sunny day in the early spring. It was a time when large flocks of geese gathered on the river. In the distance, the river made a sharp bend to the left, directly opposite a high, bare faced shale cliff.

The noise the geese made was deafening, a misrepresentation of the few geese that were visible. The greater mass of the flock was out of sight, downstream of the bend. At first glance, the overwhelming noise, out of proportion to the geese that could be seen, amounted to an auditory hallucination and set the stage for what was yet to come.

As expected, the massive flock exploded into flight as I got closer. The sound was undiminished, though the geese were out of sight, below the river bend.

I suddenly realized I was watching the endless shadows of the geese that I could not see; fly across the face of the cliff.

Because the sound the geese made echoed off the cliff and only the shadows were visible, it appeared the shadows were the source of the sound. The cliff acted as a giant movie screen complete with sound track and shadow puppets in the form of geese.

So, it is with awe and expectation that I look upon the stalwart cliffs as timeless reference points, immovable sentinels that add beauty and dimension to the scenery along the North and South Branch, their tributaries and the upper Raritan River.

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.

Volunteers Wanted for Summer 2019 Bacteria Monitoring on the Lower Raritan!

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 May 23 to September 26. Volunteers will travel with a monitoring team to capture water quality samples at sites along the Raritan River, followed by a trip to the NEIWPCC 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 2019.

The first training will be on Thursday May 9, 1-3:30 PM at the EARTH Center of Middlesex County. 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 NEIWPCC’s 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 New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.

NY- NJ Harbor & Estuary Program’s Environmental Monitoring Plan

By Rosana DaSilva, Water Quality Manager, New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program

Whether it is testing the water for pathogens, tracking fish or counting park visitors, environmental monitoring is critical for tracking the health of the Estuary, and the progress and effectiveness of policies and management actions.  Now, the region has a new set of tools and shared set of priorities for improving our ability to gauge what is happening in the estuary.  The New York – New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program (HEP) has produced an Environmental Monitoring Plan to help coordinate monitoring efforts, improve data analysis and address monitoring gaps, and make available data more accessible.  There are specific recommendations to advance the work of scientists (including citizen scientists), managers, and policy makers who rely on this information.  

The Environmental Monitoring Plan is composed of three tools: a monitoring inventory and interactive map, a companion digital storymap, and an environmental research and monitoring recommendations report.  These tools feature 47 indicators, selected by scientific and technical experts, which help us understand and document progress towards improvements in water quality, habitat, public access, maritime use, and community engagement.   

The Monitoring Inventory and Interactive Map identifies past and current environmental monitoring efforts by HEP and its partners, including public agencies, utilities, universities, non-profits, and local community groups.  Users can locate where monitoring is occurring, what is being monitored, the organization conducting the monitoring, and where to access available data.  Although the map does not host the data, it serves as an index to help users identify how to access that data with links and contact information.  This tool can be used to help monitoring programs collaborate and share data as well as informing where gaps exist. 

A companion storymap, Discovering Indicators and Monitoring Programs in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, helps users unfamiliar with monitoring better understand specific monitoring efforts across the Hudson Raritan Estuary.  Each section explores relevant indicators that provide critical insight as to the quality of the estuary and progress towards HEP’s five goals of water quality, habitat and ecological health, port and maritime, public access and stewardship, and community engagement.  

The Recommendations for Environmental Research and Monitoring in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary identifies priorities for supporting existing monitoring programs as well as recommends new programs to address the gaps in scientific knowledge and otherwise identify the changes taking place in the Harbor Estuary.  In addition, the recommendations report identifies research that would improve monitoring practices, investigate new indicators, and better understand emerging contaminants.  HEP’s partners from public agencies, the public and universities identified and prioritized 20 specific recommendations.  Two of these were identified as most critical for the Harbor Estuary: Launch a near-shore pathogen monitoring program that provides high quality data to inform recreational water quality assessments, including helping citizen scientists contribute to this work.Reinstate and fully fund the Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (REMAP) or a similar benthic and toxic monitoring program. Having adopted this plan, HEP and our partners are now working to implement these and other recommendations outlined in the report.  HEP will update the Environmental Monitoring Plan every five years, a similar schedule to the State of the Estuary and Action Agenda. For more information, please contact Rosana Da Silva at rosana@hudsonriver.org.  

Water Infrastructure a major topic at NJDEP Budget Hearing

On Monday, April 8, 2019 water infrastructure was a major topic at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s hearing on the agency’s spending blueprint.

With thanks to Jersey Water Works for compiling the set of questions and answers related to water infrastructure below. Topics include Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Water Quality Accountability Act, lead in drinking water, Statewide Water Supply Plan, Natural Resource Damages, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The full transcript is available here.

On Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFAS in drinking water (page 3):
What are the considerations in adopting the standards recommended by DWQI? What is the plan for implementing MCLs for New Jersey public water systems? If there is not a plan, why not? What is the timeline for implementing MCLs for New Jersey public water systems? If no timeline is set, why not? The rate occurrence for New Jersey vs. the nation noted in the question refer to PFOS. The rates are even more concerning for PFOA, which were detected in nearly 11% of samples in New Jersey as part of the same sampling effort as compared to 2% nationwide. PFAS contamination is not unique to New Jersey but it does occur at a higher rate here. That’s why New Jersey continues to be at the forefront with respect to both the science and the regulation of these contaminants.

Pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Department is authorized to promulgate MCLs after considering the recommendation of the Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) if there are adverse health effects associated with a contaminant and the contaminant may be found in public water supplies in New Jersey. At the Commissioner’s direction, the Department can move forward to propose and adopt an MCL as an amendment to the NJ Safe Drinking Water rules. The adoption of an MCL includes not only the setting of a standard but also establishes which water systems will need to monitor for the contaminant and at what frequency. The rulemaking process also necessitates an evaluation of the costs incurred by water systems to test and treat for the contaminant. The Department authors an economic impact statement that may include estimates of the cost of treatment based on likely occurrence and of testing based on current prices and the number of those systems required to test. Water systems may comment, at this time, on the accuracy of the cost estimates, as well as other implementation issues, such as frequency of monitoring and the availability of waivers to reduce or discontinue monitoring.

During the rule process, implementation decisions are made that include the timeline and impact of the potential rule requirements on all public water systems. This may vary depending on the specific contaminant that is being addressed, associated health effects (i.e. chronic vs. acute), occurrence, analytical capability, and similarity to other regulated contaminants. The Department considers existing Federal or State monitoring frameworks in making this determination, since these serve as the groundwork for monitoring requirements. Most frameworks set forth four quarters of initial monitoring at public water systems, as well as additional requirements based on the results of this initial monitoring.

DEP finalized an MCL for Perfluorononanoic Acid (PFNA) and 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (1,2,3- TCP) on September 4, 2018. DEP proposed MCLs for Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and appeared in the April 1, 2019 New Jersey Register. DEP asked the DWQI to add 1,4 dioxane to their work plan, DWQI recently closed a “Call for Information” regarding 1,4-Dioxane, and members are reviewing relevant literature. A meeting where updates will be discussed is expected to be scheduled in late spring or early summer. DWQI is working to establish a schedule and priorities for the review of other contaminants of emerging concern.

On implementation of the Water Quality Accountability Act (page 7):
Does the department intend to propose rules to implement the WQAA? Yes, DEP has held two stakeholder meetings (November 27, 2017 and October 22, 2018) which were used to discuss, with stakeholders, the requirements of the Act, to discuss DEP’s concepts for the proposed WQAA rules, and to develop a strategy for its effective implementation. Discussions during the second stakeholder meeting specifically focused on how requirements of the WQAA would be codified, clarified the asset management requirements, and introduced the concept of water loss audits as a replacement for the annual unaccounted-for-water submission. DEP also discussed with the stakeholders the possibility of increasing situations in which it may request Technical, Managerial and Financial (TMF) capacity information from water systems. The DEP intends to propose WQAA regulations by the end of 2019.

How does the department intend to enforce and oversee implementation of the law? With the development of a centralized portal, the Department will be able to receive all materials related to this rule in an electronic format. The data submitted will be evaluated by the Department in order to more accurately identify the status of water systems as they comply with the tenets of the rule and WQAA. Additionally, the increased amount of data that will be provided to the Department will allow more precise analysis of the status of water systems. This will follow in the spirit of the NJ Joint Legislative Task Force, which identified the need to provide technical assistance to struggling systems prior to failure, rather than after. Certification statements made by water systems will also be evaluated for accuracy, particularly if a water system is under an Enforcement action. The Department will not allow the submittal of paper documents once the portal is available. Until the rule is adopted and the portal is operational, DEP has notified all applicable systems that their Asset Management Plans must be made available for review by Compliance and Enforcement. DEP also noted that the systems will be required to certify that their Asset Management Plans have been implemented by the annual certification deadline, which is October 2019.

Will the department review each water system’s asset management plan? No. Asset Management Plans are primarily meant to assist the water systems. Asset Management Plans and programs are complicated and system-specific.

Following the Water Quality Accountability Act, 287 public water systems in NJ which have >500 service connections were required to develop Asset Management Plans by April 19, 2019. Water systems will be required to self-report the status of their plans in an Annual Certification statement in October 2019. Compliance and Enforcement (C&E) staff is also examining asset management plans during site inspections. Rulemaking has also been initiated to codify the Act’s requirements into the Department’s regulations. DEP is working to assure that all public water systems have asset management programs through the following:

Phased enforcement of Regulatory Requirements
Principal Forgiveness for Financing Asset Management Program Development and Asset Management Plans/ Condition of State Financial Support via the Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program
Condition of Compliance and Enforcement Terms
Partnerships with NGOs and Industry Associations and Water System Operators.

The DEP does not currently have staff with the skill sets needed to conduct detailed reviews of Asset Management Plans and programs. The DEP is developing a program that relies primarily on the certification of Asset Management Plans by responsible entities, annual reporting of routine metrics and inspections. The DEP will be proposing to require the annual submission of itemized metrics to the centralized portal. The Department proposes to make these metrics publicly available through “Data Miner,” which will allow the public at large to compare the metrics from different water systems, and thereby improve accountability and transparency. Some examples include, but are not limited to: Water main breaks per mile of water main in previous year; Percentage and miles of water mains replaced in the previous year; Number of lead service lines in distribution system; Number of lead service lines replaced in the previous year; Infrastructure leakage index (a metric within the American Water Works Association (AWWA) audit which shows how well a Distribution system is managed with respect to leakage); Unaccounted real losses; Total volume loss; Data validity score (a measure within the AWWA audit which evaluates the trustworthiness of the data included in the audit); Number of violations, (e.g. M&R and MCL); Water rates (cost per 1,000 gal); Net asset value over previous five years; Net debt as a percentage of revenue; and Percentage of Vacancies. Submission of metrics will demonstrate improvements and actions taken by water systems. The Department will also require systems to self-report on the status of the implementation of the Plans thru an annual certification statement signed beginning October 2019.

Does the department have sufficient staff and resources to implement the WQAA effectively? Currently, the DEP is relying on the certification required in the Act. Once the regulations are adopted, DEP will rely on the review of electronically reported metrics for review; however, additional staff may be needed to implement a water loss program.

On lead in drinking water (page 11)
Does the department intend to propose updates to the federal LCR? If not, why not? What else is the department doing to protect the public, and children in particular, from lead in drinking water? The DEP is considering whether changes to the Lead and Copper Rules are appropriate. We are looking at how we could address issues such as Lead Service Line Replacement, Corrosion Control Treatment, Tap Sampling, Public Education and Transparency, Copper Requirements. In addition, the DEP works in partnership with the Infrastructure Bank to provide low cost financing for capital improvements to water infrastructure. The DEP Commissioner establishes funding priorities and the allocation of principal forgiveness as part of the Intended Use Plan. The recent DEP Intended Use Plan (issued final on March 22, 2019) includes the allotment of $30 million dollars to provide up to 90% principal forgiveness for lead service line replacements for eligible water systems.

What else is the department doing to protect the public, and children in particular, from lead in drinking water?

DEP continues to implement and enforce the federal regulations to the fullest extent possible. In January 2015, the Division began a self-assessment and determined that improvements were necessary to ensure consistent implementation of the Rule throughout the State.

DEP continues to coordinate with the USEPA, the New Jersey Governor’s office, other NJ state agencies, including New Jersey Department of Health, non-profit organizations, and states around the country to better assist systems protect their customers, i.e., the public, from lead in drinking water.

DEP continues to assist water systems like Newark and Trenton with funding drinking water system infrastructure projects, such as lead service line replacement, through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the NJIB.

Is the department taking any additional steps to educate and inform the public about the existence of lead in drinking water and the possible existence of lead service lines at their homes and businesses? If so, how? If not, why not?

Yes. DEP is routinely working with the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, and has participated in past public outreach events, including First Lady Tammy Murphy’s community festivals. Several additional groups have recently contacted the Division to seek assistance; therefore, the DEP hopes to bring all entities together to focus on the common goal of exposure reduction by developing readily accessible resources.

The DEP updated its website, focusing on different groups, including consumers, with helpful information specific to each group.

The DEP provides technical assistance and review of public education/notices that are developed by water systems that go out to the public once an action level exceedance is identified to ensure that all information is clear and accurate.

Regarding the presence of LSLs, the DEP and a majority of the water systems do not know the location of LSLs in the state. This is not just an issue in New Jersey, many water systems in the U.S. are facing a similar challenge. DEP has been working with water systems to make good faith efforts to identify the LSLs through regular maintenance activities, review of water system and municipal records, during water main breaks and customer inquiries, and if necessary reaching out to customers.

DEP recently requested that all community water systems provide an estimate of the number of LSLs in their system. These values will be data managed internally and will be used by the DEP to make decisions on areas to focus on in the future.

The Lead and Copper Rule does not require water systems to inform property-owners if they have a LSL. As mentioned above, many water systems do not have accurate records of the exact locations of LSLs in their system. In addition, many water systems in New Jersey only own the portion of the service line between the main and the curbstop; and therefore, do not have records or control over what materials are located on the property-owner side. Though not required by the LCR, some water systems, like Newark Water Department, have websites indicating the location of known lead service lines, and some water systems, like Trenton Water have information on their website on helping customers determine if they have a lead service line.

Does the department intend to require water systems to complete lead service line inventories? Yes. In January 2019, the Department required all community water systems to submit initial summaries of lead service lines (LSL) inventories on a form provided by the Department. The Department is not aware of any nontransient noncommunity water systems in New Jersey having a LSL. Technically per the LCR all Community Water Systems and Non-Transient Non-community Water Systems should have completed a materials evaluation when the rule took effect, which would have included information on LSLs; however, it was not required to be submitted to the State.

The Department is primarily collecting lead service line information from the water systems as part of the Lead and Copper Sampling Plan reviews. As DEP calls sampling plans in, we have also been requesting the number of LSLs to be included in the plan. If the water system is unsure, they must include a plan on steps they will take moving forward to identify LSLs in their system. In addition, in February 2019, the Department requested the total number of Lead Service Lines from the remaining community water systems that have not been required to submit their sampling plans. Approximately 80 systems still need to submit this information. However, many water systems do not have accurate information on the location and number of lead service lines in their distribution system. Many of the water systems’ records are dated and inaccurate and there is no easy method for identifying lead service lines in the field. In addition, many systems in New Jersey do not own the entire service line; therefore, if changes have been made on the homeowner side of the service line, the water system may not have been informed.

The department plans to manage the LSL inventory summaries and rely on the systems to manage the actual inventories. The systems are in a better position to ensure that the inventories are accurate and updated as needed.

What does the department estimate would be the cost to public water systems and to the State of such a requirement? Although it is unknown at this time exactly how many lead service lines are in existence in New Jersey, AWWA estimates the number to be approximately 350,000. Assuming an average replacement cost of $6,500/line ($3,000- 10,000 depending on location), it is estimated it would cost approximately $2.3 billion to replace all LSLs in New Jersey. This estimate does not consider those additional costs associated with identification and planning for the replacement of these lines.

Does the department intend to require more water systems to conduct lead service line replacement? In accordance with the Federal LCR, systems are only required to conduct lead service line replacements after corrosion control treatment has been installed and that system receives an ALE. Currently, there are three water systems in the State that are required to replace lead service lines under the LCR; Newark, Trenton and Suez/Hackensack. However, the DEP does recommend that customers proactively replace their lead service lines.

How has the NJIB spent the $30 million it has made available for lead service line replacement projects? Does the department or NJIB anticipate that any additional funding will be made available for such projects? If so, when could the additional funding be anticipated? The Department has set aside $30 million for principal forgiveness for LSL replacement projects. The LSL replacement program offers 90% principal forgiveness and 10% funding from DEP at 0% interest for communities with a median household income (MHI) less than the MHI for the county in which they are located. Project applicants are capped at $1, 5 or 10 million per water system per year per water system based on population served by the water system. The Department prioritized the replacement of lead service lines by offering up to $30 million of grant like funding (principal forgiveness) under the Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program. Under the recently finalized State Revolving Fund Intended Use Plan, which sets out the Department’s funding priorities, the Department will offer 90% principal forgiveness for a total project cost of up to $10 million dollars for a large system that meets affordability criteria. The Department has also received applications from water systems that do not exceed the lead action level but are interested in replacing lead pipes. These systems are eligible for the base program, under which funding is prioritized by project rank over readiness to proceed. Funding for LSL replacement is a priority both nationwide and for the Department. However, with only $30M available for principal forgiveness, there are still a limited number of projects that can be funded. The need throughout the State surpasses the current amount of funds available.

On the Statewide Water Supply Plan (page 14):
Does the department intend to issue any updates or revisions to the Statewide Water Supply Plan? If not, why not? If not through the vehicle of the Statewide Water Supply Plan, how will the department provide guidance to policymakers, water supply providers and the public to ensure the future availability and protection of our water supply? Yes, the Department plans to provide an update to the Water Supply Plan. The Plan will use the robust data that was published in 2017 to develop several Statewide policies, with focuses on climate change (develop a climate change adaption plan), deficit areas, agriculture water use, asset management, and water supply emergency and resiliency planning.

The Department is also working on updating the data that will be used to inform the 2022 Statewide Water Supply Plan.

The DEP ensures the protection of available supplies. The water allocation permit review process evaluates a number of factors including: available stream flow during low flow conditions, aquifer drawdowns, potential impacts to surrounding water systems and individual wells, etc. and relies on regional water supply studies provided by US Geological Survey (USGS). In addition, the DEP uses the information contained within the Water Supply Plan to inform decisions regarding the issuance of new or increased allocations.

The safe drinking water permit programs also ensure that there is adequate supply and infrastructure prior to approvals to extend drinking water service. The Statewide Water Supply Plan provides an important vehicle to estimate regional water supply demands, existing approved supplies the potential to meet those demands while protecting the new or increased sources.

On revenues from Natural Resource Damages (page 18):
Please describe the process by which projects funded from this revenue source are selected and prioritized for submission to the Legislature. Is there any public participation in the project selection process? In addition to the requirements of the Constitution, is there a formal project grading or evaluation system that informs project selection and prioritization? NRD Restoration project funding is administered through DEP-lead projects and competitive granting programs (discussed in later bullet).

To determine the types of DEP-lead projects to be funded using NRD recoveries, DEP’s different programs identify projects of types of projects appropriate for funding and DEP conducts stakeholdering to develop and scope project concepts. These stakeholders include federal (NOAA, USFWS, NMFS, USEPA, USCOE), and local government agencies, government working groups (NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program, Harbor Spill Governments Committee, etc.), environmental groups (NY/NJ Baykeeper, NJ Audubon, River Keeper Network, Nature Conservancy, etc.), and local community groups (Newark Ironbound CC, Friends of Liberty State Park, Camden SMART, etc.). Through public participation, stakeholders are not only involved in project identification, but are consulted through project development and design.

Unless a project or type of project is selected through a grant solicitation, DEP does not rely on a formal grading or evaluation system in identifying projects for selection and prioritization. However, DEP does evaluate projects based on several guiding principles, including: projects should be consistent with Constitutional Amendment; projects should seek to restore the same resource that was injured; larger projects should seek to be transformative, in terms of ecological or human use; projects should be considered based on the degree of environmental uplift (ecological and/or human use benefits); projects should achieve the greatest environmental uplift while minimizing administrative processes and overhead costs; and projects should be sustainable, with minimal ongoing operation and maintenance requirements.

Does the department intend to develop a grant and loan program to award natural resource damage monies to local governments and nonprofit organizations for projects? If so, how much money or what percentage of natural resource damage collections does the department intend on setting aside for such a program? What would the criteria be for eligible recipients and eligible projects for the grants and loans? How would applicants apply? How would the department choose recipients? How would the department ensure that the NRD monies were used for qualified NRD purposes by the recipients of the grants and loans? DEP has administered approximately $75 million worth of competitive grants using NRD recoveries and anticipates continuing this practice with a portion of current and future recoveries. Of the $99,371,295 in MTBE recoveries identified in the recent appropriations bill (S3110/A4578), approximately $20 million is proposed to be allocated statewide and $10 million in the Hudson-Raritan estuary for grants/loans to municipalities and public entities for water quality, water supply, and wastewater improvements.

Pending evaluation of presently nominated potential restoration projects, some portion of the additional $50 million supplemental appropriation identified in S3110/A4578 will also be available for competitive grants in the Hudson-Raritan estuary drainage for habitat restoration and public access enhancement.

In addition to municipalities and public entities, non-profit environmental or community groups will also be eligible for grant funding if they satisfy specific grant solicitations criteria.

Eligible recipients and eligible projects will be determined by specific grant solicitations as different allocations of the recoveries will require specific types of projects in specific geographic areas. For instance, the $20 million identified in S3110/A4578 for statewide water supply and wastewater improvements, will be administered through DEP’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. This program may have specific requirements that differ from other programs receiving NRD recovery funding. In addition to providing funds to established granting programs, DEP may also solicit grant proposals to conduct restoration through means other than established granting programs.

Applicants can apply to specific grant solicitations by submitting proposals that satisfy conditions and specifications of the solicitation. Choice of recipients will be based upon criteria identified in specific solicitations and will likely consider criteria such as project applicability, level of benefit provided, project readiness, likelihood of success and ability to cost share. All grants will likely be issued as reimbursement grants. Reimbursement will only be made available upon grantee’s compliance with a post-award grant agreement and verification that all necessary funding is available to completely construct the project.

On the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (page 27):
How much money does the department need each year to provide matching funds in order to receive the federal SRF capitalization grants? How much money does the department currently have for this purpose, and when does the agency anticipate that it will run out of funds? What other sources of revenue is the department using to make the State match? The Department needs to provide a 20% match for the State Revolving Fund capitalization grants, so the amount of match varies depending on the amount of the annual federal grant. The Department generally need between $3-4 million per year in Drinking Water SRF match funds and $13.5 million for the Clean Water SRF.

The Department currently has approximately $29 million in DWSRF match funds available (May 2019). This will provide about 10 years in match money for the DWSRF. The CWSRF currently has an estimated $8.6 million in available match funds remaining from SFY2019, which when added to resources for SFY2020, would give the CW program approximately $25.2 million in match funds.

The Department is using 1981 bond loan repayments as DWSRF match. In addition to the $29 million available, approximately $55 million is anticipated to be repaid in the future, for a total of about 21 years of match. The CWSRF has identified resources totaling approximately $67.5 million in match funds, which are projected to be exhausted in SFY2022.

Should the Legislature consider a more permanent source of revenue for clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects, for instance, as it has for the Green Acres program? Does the department have any recommendations for new revenue sources to support these projects and the State’s match? Yes. For the past 32 years, the DEP and I-Bank have leveraged available State and federal funds (provided to the DEP through the State Revolving Fund Capitalization Grant Program) with publicly issued tax-exempt bonds to maximize capital improvements for water infrastructure. The totals for low interest long term loans over this period is $6.85 Billion, saving New Jersey ratepayers and estimated $2.54 billion in interest costs and principal forgiveness. This is also estimated to have translated into an over 130,000 direct construction jobs.

The need for water infrastructure improvements is expected to outpace available funding in State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2019 for Drinking Water and SFY 2027 For Clean Water. While the DEP is considering several steps to try to address the shortfalls, for example by moving funding from the clean water program to the drinking water program, these are not permanent solutions. Additional State funding is needed. We look forward to working with the Legislature to find a solution.

Notes from Garden and Afield in the Jersey Midlands; Week of 2019, March 31 to April 6

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

A beautiful rainbow trout at “Jamesburg Lake” in Middlesex County.

     TROUT FISHING ‘OPENING DAY’:  New Jersey’s trout fishing “Opening Day” was Saturday, April 6. On that day, I surveryed anglers as a state Fish and Wildlife volunteer. I was at “Jamesburg Lake,” properly “Lake Manalapan” on the boundary of Jamesburg and Monroe in Middlesex County. County Parks and Recreation lists the lake as 30 acres, created by the damming of Manalapan Brook. Prior to Opening Day, NJ Fish and Wildlife released 610 rainbow trout, “Oncorhynchus mykiss,” into the lake. I interviewed about 50 anglers, who reported catching 65 rainbow trout of which 49 were kept, 7 released, and 9 unknown if kept or released. The 65 trout ranged in size from about 9 or 10 inches to about 18 inches. Anglers were allowed to keep 6 trout as long as each was 9 or more inches. Fish and Wildlife is to release 450 rainbows during each of the next three weeks. Trout fishing at the lake, which is not traditional trout water of clarity and coolness, should extend to about June. (I also volunteer for Middlesex County Parks and Recreation, so this surveying was a two for the price of one.)

Rainbow trout on a stringer at Jamesburg Lake.
Canada geese, “Branta canadensis,” fly behind a osprey, “Pandion haliaetus,” carrying a fish in its mouth.

     OSPREY:  I watched an osprey, “Pandion haliaetus,” crash into Jamesburg Lake and grab a fish in its talons. The fish was likely one of the recently stocked rainbow trout. The osprey flew off, circling the lake, carrying the fish. “Unique among North American raptors for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them,” according to Cornell University’s “All About Birds” website. The osprey was “seriously endangered by effects of pesticides in mid-20th century; since DDT and related pesticides were banned in 1972, ospreys have made a good comeback in many parts of North America,” according to the “Audubon, Guide to North American Birds.”

The osprey with the fish — likely a freshly stocked rainbow trout — in its talons. “When flying with prey, an osprey lines up its catch head first for less wind resistance,” according to Cornell University’s “All About Birds” website.

Joe Sapia, 61, is a lifelong resident of Monroe — in South Middlesex County, where his maternal family settled more than 100 years ago. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic gardener of vegetables and fruit, along with zinnias and roses. He loves the Delaware River north of Trenton and Piedmont, too.

     He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Polish-immigrant grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda.

     He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Grandma Annie and Italian-American father, Joe Sr. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Ma inspires his rose gardening.

    Joe is a semi-retired print journalist of almost 40 years. His work also is at
https://josephsapia.wordpress.com/ @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with The Jersey Midlands page on Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.

Copyright 2019 by Joseph Sapia

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