Tag: Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Save the Date! 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 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 May 12 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.

Registration will open April 1.

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.

Check with your local Environmental Commission or Green Team for information about specific source impacts and development pressures in your community.

Dec 18 – Annual Holiday Potluck with LRWP & Friends!

The LRWP, New Brunswick Environmental Commission and EARTH Center of Middlesex County invite you to join us for our annual holiday potluck!

We will enjoy a meal and casual conversation on the topic of “40 Years of Concern for Water Resource Management in the Lower Raritan.” Joining us will be Rutgers Professor Dan Van Abs, New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s Kathy Hale and former Middlesex County Planning Director Bill Kruse – all of whom were instrumental in shaping the Raritan Basin Watershed Management Plan almost 20 years ago. We’ll discuss current status of the watershed, and our plans for 2019.

6-8 PM at the EARTH Center of Middlesex County, 42 Riva Avenue / North Brunswick, NJ

Families welcome! Plates, forks, napkins, cups and beverages will be provided. Please bring a dish to share.

So that we can plan accordingly, RSVPs requested.

For more information or to RSVP please contact Heather: hfenyk@lowerraritanwatershed.org

Raritan River Festival 2019!

Stop by the LRWP table at the annual Raritan River Festival and Rubber Duck Race on Sunday, September 30! This is a free and family-friendly annual event celebrating our Raritan River.

Tons of fun activities are planned, including live music, environmental exhibitors, food vendors, activities for children, pony rides and a petting zoo, cardboard canoe races and the annual Rubber Duck Race.

The LRWP will be conducting water quality monitoring demos with the New Brunswick Environmental Commission and Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and hosting a special “hands-on” sculpture making workshop with our coLAB Arts partners. Don’t miss this annual summer festival in the City of New Brunswick!

World Water Monitoring Day at Boyd Park – CANCELLED!

It looks like Hurricane Florence may extend her tentacles up the New Jersey coast during World Water Monitoring Day. This would put a damper on a waterfront water quality monitoring demo.

Unfortunately we are CANCELLING our September 18 event.

Plan to join us next year to celebrate World Water Monitoring Day, or stop by the Raritan River Festival on September 30th for monitoring demonstrations of dissolved oxygen, temperature, phosphorus, turbidity, nutrients and nitrogen.

World Water Monitoring Day, established in 2003, is a global initiative designed inspire people around the world to test their local water quality and encourage action to protect water.

September 17, LRWP monthly meeting

At our September 17 meeting we will welcome Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agent Tobiah Horton to discuss a plan for rooftop and impervious surface drainages recreating an historic New Brunswick stream. The “Recreated Lyell’s Brook Green Infrastructure Corridor and Walkway” concept plan is an outgrowth of the Rail-Arts-River initiative developed by the LRWP, coLAB Arts and Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Also on the agenda is catch up on partner activities, status updates for on-going projects, and setting planning priorities for 2019.

The meeting will be held from 10-noon in the Middlesex County Planning Offices at 75 Bayard Street, New Brunswick, NJ – 5th floor mid-size conference room.

Parking is validated for those parking on floors 5 and higher in the RWJ Wellness Parking Deck located at 95 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Be sure to bring your ticket to the meeting for validation.

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