Tag: Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Elmwood Cemetery’s 1st Annual BioBlitz

Article by Howard Swerdloff, New Brunswick Environmental Commission

On Saturday June 8, 2019, the Elmwood Cemetery hosted their first annual “BioBlitz.” (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.) The event was sponsored by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP), the Americorps Watershed Ambassadors Program, New Brunswick Environmental Commission, North Brunswick Environmental Commission, and the Elmwood Cemetery.

Photo credit: Roger Dreyling

Over 4 dozen area “citizen scientists” and experts scoured the 50 acre site identifying and cataloging the fish, mammals, insects, aquatic invertebrates, fungi, plants, and birds. They identified 8 species of fish; 8 species of mammals; 47 species of insects; 15 species of aquatic invertebrates; 20 species of fungi; 37 species of plants; and 42 species of birds (the latter are catalogued on E-bird: https://ebird.org/nj/view/checklist/S57201308 ) — a total of 177 different species.

Photo credit: Johnny Malpica
Photo Credit: Johnny Malpica
Photo credit: Johnny Malpica

The event inspired many two-way conversations between our community participants and the volunteer scientists. Instead of a didactic “top down” learning experience, both groups shared their knowledge and understanding of the local environment in a way that enhanced the specialized knowledge of the expert scientists, and, in turn, the expert scientists helped community volunteers develop a deeper knowledge and appreciation for the natural world and local environment. The experts’ final reports will be ready in a month; their findings will be shared with the volunteers. Elmwood Cemetery plans to make a Bioblitz an annual event.

Elmwood Cemetery, a Special Forested Habitat Refuge
The cemetery is nestled between the New and North Brunswick communities. It 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.

June 8 BioBlitz in New/North Brunswick

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 LRWP and partners including the Americorps Watershed Ambassadors Program, New Brunswick Environmental Commission, North Brunswick Environmental Commission, and Elmwood Cemetery will host our inaugural 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. Elmwood is located at 425 Georges Rd, North Brunswick Township, NJ 08902.

Our BioBlitz will run from 5:30AM-2PM and 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.

5:30AM – Check-in opens
6:00AM – Birds
7:00AM – Mammals
8AM – Plants
9AM – Aquatic Invertebrates, Insects
10AM – Fish, Fungi
11:30AM – Procession of Species to Elmwood Office lawn
12:00PM – Data reports, lunch, conversation
2PM – Wrap up

Our Expert Scientists:

Aquatic Invertebrates: Von Scully, Erin Dempsey, Jen Helminski with NJ Watershed Ambassadors
Birds: Laurie Gneiding, NJDEP Ornithologist/Ecologist for Environmentally Sensitive Areas
Fish: Chuck Sedor with NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries
Fungi: Randy Hemminghaus and Nancy Addotta with the NJ Mycological Association
Insects: Trisha Nichols with the Philadelphia Insectarium Butterfly Pavilion
Mammals: Brionna Primiani with NJ Wildlife Services
Plants/Trees: Michele Bakacs with Middlesex County EARTH Center – Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Please register to be part of one of these species teams!

June 1 – Visual Habitat Assessment with Jon Dugan!

Calling all Streamkeepers and Citizen Scientists!

Please join us for our June 1 visual habitat assessment training with the LRWP’s Volunteer Monitoring Manager Jon Dugan! (Here’s more on the LRWP’s water quality monitoring programs).

This FREE training on Saturday June 1 will run from 9 AM – 1 PM at the Middlesex High School, located at 300 John F Kennedy Dr, Middlesex, NJ 08846

We will start the morning with a lecture indoors, and then get out in the field to test our knowledge of streams and stream habitat.

Please wear clothing and footwear that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty.

Registration required.

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.

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.

Watershed Sculpture Project @ the Mercado!

Article and interview by TaeHo Lee, Rutgers Raritan Scholar

Starting Saturday April 14 and running through October, the LRWP will join Mercado Esperanza in Joyce Kilmer Park (143 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, New Brunswick) for a community market celebrating the food, arts and culture of New Brunswick and its diverse Latino community. Learn more about the Mercado in TaeHo Lee’s interview (below) with Mercado Coordinator Carolina Moratti. In the interview Carolina gives a preview of a new program for 2019 called Mercado Esperanza Kids. As part of Mercado Kids, the LRWP and our coLAB Arts partners invite you and your favorite young person to make “watershed sculptures” for inclusion in our 2019 Sculpture Project gallery installation. The Mercado runs once monthly from 11-4 PM, and will be held on April 14, May 26, June 30, July 28, August 25, September 29, October 27.

Participants at Mercado 2018 learn about watershed health while participating in sculpture-making. Photo: coLAB Arts

Carolina Moratti and her son Abraham met me at a Café on George Street during Rutgers spring break to talk about the monthly Mercado Esperanza on Joyce Kilmer Avenue in New Brunswick. Carolina has worked with the Mercado since it started in 2016, and now serves as Coordinator. Carolina is a Peruvian born American. She moved to the US in 2005, and five years later became a citizen. She was a former student and an instructor of Elijah’s Promise. She currently works as a phlebotomist, partaking in community outreach with women and kids as a hobby. She describes herself as a hard working single mom. Abraham is Carolina’s 12-year old son and a 6th grade student of Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex. Though he was born in the States, he identifies himself as a Peruvian, Central and South American.

T: Tell me about New Brunswick’s Mercado. What is your role at these monthly events?

C:  I started by helping community women, entrepreneurs, and cooks who wanted to build a business. I would coordinate their involvement at the Mercado, helping them sell prepared foods. Later on I started to work managing the Mercado as a whole. I also created the Mercado Esperanza Kids, in which I work with young volunteers to do activities for kids. We have young kids doing temporary tattoos and face painting, and also environmental education. My current priority is emceeing the Mercado, taking care of Mercado Esperanza Kids, and doing social media and public relations.

T: Does the term Mercado mean market?

C: Yes! And Esperanza means hope. Mercados are everywhere in Latin America. Some places are called Marketa but we call ours Mercado Esperanza/Hope. We’re giving hope to people because sometimes they are in a difficult situation. They are homeless, they don’t believe in themselves, they are having a hard time making money, succeeding, and having their voice heard. So we gave them some representation, something that they can be proud of. It is really life-changing.

T: I think it is also very important that this Mercado also allows people to celebrate their culture.

C: People can feel secluded as immigrants in America when nobody sees them. But we give them some representation and help them to be seen. What I love about Mercado is that we keep in traditions. And we’re showing our kids how wonderful it is to go to a local Mercado and experience how we are trying to bring the culture of Mexico here. We’re bringing culture, we’re bringing memories, we’re bringing flavors, we’re bringing music, and all that vibe that we have when we go to another Mercado in any part of South America or Central America or Mexico. We have so many vendors with their kids selling and playing at the Mercado. It’s very good to see that the kids are also getting involved.

T: As part of Mercado Esperanza Kids you are working with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and coLAB Arts to offer a “Watershed Sculpture Project” activity. Why is it important to you to see environmental outreach included as part of Mercado offerings?

C:  The more things we include at Mercado the better. If you go there for food but we are teaching you about how to keep the water clean, how to produce less garbage, how to reuse, how to recycle. If we can give you that information we are making a change because we don’t have that in our culture. A lot of countries in Central or South America don’t do that. People are very excited to see environmental education. It’s a lot of information that is not easy to get to. So if we provide that with Mercado it’s amazing.  Because I know it’s going to make a change.

T: Last summer you participated in a weeklong “Watershed Institute” with coLAB and the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. What were some of the things you learned that week?

Abraham: I learned about water quality monitoring, and how it’s important to protect the environment. And I learned that we can protect the environment by making sure we recycle things. We can also clean up after ourselves and after others who have forgotten to do so. We could maybe even make a fundraiser for an environmental cause.

Abraham Moratti conducts visual habitat assessments as part of Summer Institute 2018 “Art and Action in the Watershed.”

T: Do you have anything to say to adults who mainly created the environmental issues that you and I have to inherit for our lifetime and for the following generations?

A: They should have been more careful. They should have been more thoughtful. They should have cleaned up their mess after themselves. They should have been more aware of what they were doing.

Build a Rain Barrel with Watershed Ambassador Jennifer Helminski!

Rain barrels collect and store rainwater from roofs, improving stream health by reducing the amount of water and pollutants that reach local waterways. The water captured by rain barrels has many beneficial uses. Residents can use water from the rain barrels to water lawns and gardens, save money on water bills and reduce stress on wells.

Rain barrels are a great way for homeowners to help protect their water supply by controlling residential storm water runoff.

At this session participants will learn how using a rain barrel can contribute to improving our water resources and will be instructed on how to build, install and maintain their own rain barrel to take home. Materials will be provided.

This workshop will be held in the Jankowski Community Center: 1 Olive Street, Perth Amboy, NJ 08861 from 6-8:30pm.

Our presenter is AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassador Jennifer Helminski, serving New Jersey’s Watershed Management Area 7 (hosted by the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation).

Registration is limited.

For more information please contact Watershed Ambassador Jennifer Helminski: watershed7@ucnj.org

The Problem of “Hidden” streams

The LRWP is often asked to identify top environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities, and every year we develop a “Top 10” list of concerns. Through 2019 we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. This month we consider the problems caused by culverting, piping, developing over or otherwise “hiding” our streams, and provide strategies through which we can find them again. 

The Lower Raritan Watershed is full of ghost streams. Entrepreneurs, town councils, industry, and home owners have long buried streams to develop their land and businesses, to expand their towns, to build their homes, and to address public health concerns. The result is centuries of piping, culverting, construction, and development that have hidden the vast majority of streams and rivers in our urban landscape.


“Lower Raritan Change: 1893-1995”
This graphic show gradual encroachment of development and associated disappearance of tributaries to the South River and Raritan River over a period of approximately 100 years.
Sanja Martic, 2017.

The impact of “hiding” so many of our streams is devastating. Lower Raritan communities are alienated from our waterways and historic ecologies, habitats are degraded, water quality is compromised, and stormwater runoff and flooding intensify. Not only in the Lower Raritan, but throughout the United States and globally, these impacts are most acutely felt in areas with low socioeconomic status and vulnerable populations. In the face of climate change and increased precipitation and runoff, these communities bear disproportionate risk and adaptive burden.

We know that healthy, open streams play an important role in stormwater management. In a healthy stream, stormwater gets absorbed and gradually released by soil and plants. An open stream not only slows and controls stormwater surge, it also provides habitat for wildlife, and provides the aesthetic benefits of cool spaces and greenery.


A Stream (Mile Run Brook) Runs Under It
Flooding on Joyce Kilmer Avenue at the Mile Run Brook culvert strands students at New Brunswick’s Greater Brunswick Charter School Photo: Charlie Kratovil, 2016

What is a culvert? A culvert is a tunnel carrying a stream or open drain under a road or railroad. Stagnant water in Mile Run Brook under New Brunswick’s Hamilton Street culvert.
Photo: Heather Fenyk, 2019

Streams, especially small ones, also play an important role in improving water quality. A healthy stream ecosystem can remove excess nutrients, sediment, and other contaminants from water before it flows into our Rivers, Bays or Oceans. Recent research by the Environmental Protection Agency found that nitrates—nutrients that can become pollutants—travel on average 18 times further in buried urban streams than they do in open streams before they are taken out of the water column. This means that in areas with many buried streams like the Lower Raritan Watershed, larger water bodies including Raritan River and Raritan Bay receive more pollutants than if the waterways upstream were open and healthy and serving to filter pollutants as stormwater runoff travels its course.


Except for the smallest tributary, all branches of Mill Brook first meet daylight at the end of concrete pipes. Outfalls of, from left to right, Mill Brook’s main branch, the South Tributary, the North Tributary, and the Kilmer Tributary (Highland Park and Edison). These photos are part of Susan Edmunds’s Storymap: “Mill Brook: A Portrait of an Urban Stream

Of course the best first action with respect to keeping streams healthy is to avoid culverting, piping, constructing over or otherwise developing them. However, in already heavily developed areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed, much damage has already been done. In some of our Lower Raritan towns more than 50% of surfaces are paved over, including all waterways that were in evidence on maps from the 1800s.


Change in time in impervious cover in the Lower Raritan Watershed from 1995-2012

Walk down most any of our main streets and you are likely to “walk on water” without any awareness of what is beneath your feet. If you pay careful attention however, as students did during our 2018 summer camp, you can hear the streams and trace their course, even if you cannot actually see them. Learning about our landscape, and “finding” our hidden streams is the next best action to take in protecting them.

Lazos America Unida/LRWP Summer Camp looks for the buried Lyell’s Brook

Learning to decipher our landscape, and trying to “find” our hidden streams are central to the LRWP’s new #lookfortheriver campaign.

The LRWP is building the #lookfortheriver campaign to bring attention to the problems of “hiding” or disappearing our streams, and to identify ways of finding them again. In addition to teaching folks about the landscape in fun ways, this involves collecting stories by volunteers and contributors who take the time observe and document their area streams, and who highlight the great benefits of landscape connectivity. Joe Mish’s most recent February essay is a great example: Along the South Branch Connected. Margo Persin’s year of blog post’s about Ambrose Brook is another.

#lookfortheriver activities include our newly launched “Watershed Highlights and Hidden Streams: Walking Tours of the Lower Raritan Watershed,” to be led by Rutgers Professor and LRWP Board Member David Tulloch. These walks will look at landscape connections to our waterways and what this means. The series kicks off on Sunday March 16 close to the Rutgers campus, with exploration of the connections between Buell Brook and the Raritan, connecting Johnson Park and the historic Raritan Landing with the Eco Preserve.

#lookfortheriver includes working with volunteers to understand how our landscape works, where it doesn’t, and how to fix the problems we observe. Susan Edmunds’s research into the history of Mill Brook, and her careful study and documentation of the stream (see her online Storymap Mill Brook: A Portrait of an Urban Stream) lends tremendous insight into landscape functions of a relatively forgotten stream. Susan will present on this project in at the Highland Park public library on Sunday March 24. Joining Susan will be Rutgers student Jillian Dorsey, who will highlight findings from her thesis research on Mill Brook that shows how property owners can protect their urban streams. We hope these efforts will further mobilize municipal action to restore local streams, and that they will inspire homeowners in proper maintenance of waterway-adjacent homes. In fact, this work has already inspired the Highland Park Council to partner with the LRWP for a multi-site clean-up of Mill Brook, scheduled for Sunday May 12 – please save the date!

#lookfortheriver also includes ambitious proposals to “daylight” local streams. One such proposal is for New Brunswick’s Lyell’s Brook Green Infrastructure Landscape Corridor.

The legacy of development, culverting and piping that has hidden our streams exacerbates flooding and pollution transfer. It has disconnected us from our waterways and from our land. This is disastrous for our communities, but we are learning new ways “find” our streams again and fix these problems. Join us in online to discussions, at meetings, or for our “Hidden Streams Walking Tours”. Or simply start exploring the watershed on your own. Give close attention to landscape cues – the sound of rushing water in a storm sewer, collections of sediment and debris in low lying areas, and dense growth of trees and weeds. In this way we connect to our landscape and waterways, imagine their past, and can begin to plan for a future of “finding” and restoring them.

Please join us as we #lookfortheriver

An MLK Day invitation to grow through service

Martin Luther King Day was established as a National Holiday in 1983. Eleven years later in 1994, Congress added a service component to the holiday. Monday January 21 marks the 25th anniversary of our federally designated National Day of Service, also called the “King Day of Service” or “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”

Through his leadership of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King provided tremendous service to our nation. Despite this, media coverage of the service aspect of Martin Luther King Day celebrations is sparse. Especially rare are stories that highlight impacts of volunteering that go beyond economic valuation and personal benefits.

How can we build on Dr. King’s legacy and celebrate volunteering in ways that strengthen our neighborhoods and nation? We can conceive of service as an expression of citizenship, service as an expression of generosity, and service as the opportunity to experience a felt sense of community.

Citizenship. The pressures of our day-to-day political and economic engagement tend to reduce us to “voters” or “consumers.” Through this process we lose sense of ourselves as citizens, and lose connection to our communities. Volunteering allows us to connect deeply with one another as citizens in the craft of working together for the common good.

Generosity. Non-profits, schools and nursing homes do not need “free labor” or “spare time” as much as they need the generosity of spirit that prompts us to engage as volunteers. In sharing our generosity, we are held to a higher standard: the intention to enhance the true well-being of those to whom our generosity is given.

Community. Volunteering is about a felt sense of community. It is about making connections and building resilience. Connections, resilience – these are especially critical assets in these more trying times.

As we recognize 25 years of celebrating service as a national value, let’s reflect on and commit to grow through the broad benefits of volunteerism. Evolving through service in this way can help strengthen our diverse communities and further protect civil rights and civil liberties.

Heather Fenyk, Ph.D. serves as Board President of the 100% volunteer-run Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership based in New Brunswick, NJ.

LRWP’s Top 10 Environmental Issues, 2019 edition

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is often asked to talk about the most pressing environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities. Here is our “Top 10” list of cross-cutting concerns for 2019. Starting in February we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. We invite you to join in the conversation.

  1. Poorly coordinated stormwater management, conducted at municipal (not watershed) scales, means that one community’s flood control efforts can lead to another community’s flooding problems.
  2. Centuries of burying and culverting streams has “disappeared” many waterways, compromising the ability of our landscape to adequately capture and store rain and stormwater runoff.
  3. Perceptions of safety (poor lighting, litter) around riverfront spaces, and poor signage and access to these spaces, deters use and enjoyment of our waterways. If we don’t know our rivers and streams we won’t grow to love them and act to protect them.
  4. Failure of aging water infrastructure (culverts, pipes, inlets and outfalls), an urgent safety issue for all our communities, is exacerbated by an increase in precipitation due to climate change.
  5. Poor control of non-point pollution sources (fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, sediments from development and erosion, oil and grease and road salt from roadways, animal and human waste, dumping of detergents and paints and other chemicals into stormdrains, and litter) results in high chemical levels, bacteria loads and algal blooms in our rivers and streams.
  6. Loss of biodiversity in our watershed, and a reduction in absolute numbers of insects and flora and fauna, reduces the ability of our ecosystem to cope with threats from pollution, climate change and other human activities.
  7. State and regional authorities do not have a clear plan to improve knowledge of the health of the Raritan and its tributaries, and do not model pollutant loads for our watershed.
  8. Recent federal rollbacks of requirements for oil and gas reporting may result in increased methane emissions and open the door to more pipelines that fragment and threaten habitat.
  9. Federal policies that extend the offshore fishing season and increase allowances in catch rates for commercial fishing reduce numbers of anadromous migratory fish in the Raritan, affecting the food chain.
  10. Limited regional cooperation, a “home rule” focus, and lack of collaborative action and capacity building results in a slow pace of restoration and improvements in our watershed, particularly in low income communities and communities of color.
  11. Check with your local Environmental Commission or Green Team for information about specific source impacts and development pressures in your community.

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