Announcing the LRWP’s MS4 municipal stormwater management assistance program

By Anjali Madgula and Heather Fenyk

We are pleased to announce that the LRWP’s MS4 Municipal Stormwater Management Assistance Program has launched via our first municipal partnership with Highland Park!

This new fee-based program is designed to help municipalities in the Lower Raritan Watershed meet their federally mandated stormwater management education & outreach requirements under the Clean Water Act.

THE NEED:

Hurricane Ida told us that we must interrogate our current stormwater management systems, study the effects of stormwater runoff in our local townships, and implement through advocacy, policy, and community discussions, a more sustainable way to prevent stormwater from contributing to flooding or degrading the water quality in our streams and rivers. The trick? We must allow more rain to soak directly into the ground where it falls. There are so many ways to do this: by developing ecologically sensitive master plans for our municipalities, by ensuring maximum protections for our waterways and floodplains, by reducing impervious cover (hard surfaces) in all parts of our communities, by restoring degraded lands to allow for improved porosity, and by making dozens of “environmentally smart” personal choices every day. The LRWP is here to help! Please contact us to learn more!

DID YOU KNOW?

Municipalities can tap up to 25% of their New Jersey Clean Communities allocated funds to support required stormwater education.

THE LRWP’s MS4 MUNICIPAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM:

Through the LRWP’s Municipal Stormwater Management Assistance Program, we engage multiple forms of community outreach to increase everyday visibility of how our waterways and streetways are connected. 

Here are a few examples of the direct assistance the LRWP can provide:

General Public Outreach (development of stormwater webpages, newsletters, materials sharing in kiosks and municipal spaces)

Target Audience Outreach (demonstrations at municipal festivals and events, educational program development for DPW and other municipal staff, #lookfortheriver community training)

School/Youth Education & Activities (direct engagement with youth via STEAM-based environmental education and programming using the LRWP’s Next Generation Science Standards Project WADES curriculum)

Watershed Regional Cooperation (stormwater management workshops for continuing education credits, programming on stormwater utilities, programming on integrated urban watershed management)

Community Involvement Activities (community clean-ups, stormwater management plan development, rain garden builds, impervious cover removal, and more!)

An MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) is called a separate system because it does not combine with the sanitary sewer system and it is designed to gather water on the streets via storm drains and pipes and release it, without treatment, into local streams and rivers. Poor stormwater management in our communities not only leads to compromised water quality, but also flooding.

HERE’s HOW WE DO IT!

Partnership initiatives with Highland Park for Year One include developing a new stormwater webpage, stormwater newsletter, hosting community clean-ups, conducting water quality monitoring of a local stream, and hosting a “Municipal Actions to Address Stormwater and Flooding” workshop to look at stormwater management from a regional, or watershed, perspective.

Highland Park Stormwater Website 

Highland Park’s new website provides educational resources, graphics, mapping, and analysis for residents to learn about Highland Park’s waterflow and stormwater management system. What’s on our streets enters our local streams that enter the Raritan River eventually connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. Did you know that almost half of the ground in the Boro of Highland Park is covered by buildings and pavements? 

Highland Park Stormwater Newsletter

Stormwater management materials will also reach the mailboxes of Highland Park residents via a new stormwater newsletter! Residents can read the story of how the ecosystem and water cycle of the Borough has changed since we’ve built more pavements and constructions. Check out our “Stormwater Word of the Month” section! 

Special thanks to LRWP StreamKeeper Susan Edmunds for her amazing photography and writing. We encourage you to check out more of her poetic and creative science communication work via her storymap piece Mill Brook: Portrait of an Urban Stream

Workshop on Municipal Actions to Address Stormwater and Flooding October 7th 3 PM
The LRWP is hosting a free workshop to discuss how we can create policies and municipal actions to minimize flooding and improve water quality. This workshop will be informative, engaging, and a great way for community members, educators, local officials, employees, or anyone else to get involved in community stormwater management discussions. Our Keynote Speaker is Rosana DaSilva, Water Quality manager with the New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program. See you there!

Highland Park Stream Clean Up September 26th

It was a beautiful Sunday morning where LRWP volunteers, Highland Park residents, and Rutgers students gathered on River Road with gloves and garbage bags, ready for a couple hours of hard work. Hurricane Ida had washed trash back onto the floodplains and local trails. Slowly our bags got heavier and heavier until we made our final trip down through Johnson Park to the dumpsters. LRWP intern Jason Acevedo described the experience of looking for trash as investigating a mystery, searching for clues to tell a story, “looking at a crime scene”. We found glass pieces, water bottles, wrappers, plastic bags, and even a pair of pants and a tire. As we encountered them, we wondered about all the possible ways they had gotten there, concluding that there are so many. They could have been left there by people passing by or could have been swept in by the river having entered it from literally anywhere. We are excited to co-host our next clean up which is a multi-site clean up of the Green Brook on October 23rd from 10 AM to 1 pm! 

Can You Imagine an Entire River System?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

An elephant is like a tree, No! an elephant is like a snake, No! an elephant is like a wall. So claimed the three of the six blind men from Indostan, when they were asked to describe an elephant. In this case their blindness is representative of a loss of perspective and in that way, reflects on our nature to define the world into segmented parcels.  

Being gravity bound to the earth provides a limited view and so, it makes sense to parse the world via man made contractions. For instance, take a local county road, built to traverse through several counties, towns and cities. To ensure continuity it was given a numeric designation. County route 514 is an example. However, as it crosses geopolitical borders it gets christened with a local name. Amwell Road, Hamilton Boulevard, Woodbridge Avenue and Main Street, etcetera, collectively are the same road, county route 514.  

It is human nature to tease out pieces of the whole to better grasp an extensive subject. Our education system has honed specialization of studies to create unique disciplines and professions, each treated as unrelated kin. 

Over time we have lost perspective of the whole and dismantled the larger puzzle into its component pieces, forgetting that all disciples are related and taken together, are additive and complementary. Formal education has handed each disciple of its hallowed halls a critical piece of the puzzle. Much like a treasure hunt, where a map is torn into pieces and handed out to individuals to ensure all participants must bring their scraps of paper together to find the hidden gold.  

When we look at rivers, our earth bound position shapes our view. We see the north branch of a river apart from the south branch, each stream that feeds into a larger waterway gets a name. As a watercourse passes a political jurisdiction, that flow of water may, in some unusual cases, get a name change, not unlike our numbered county routes. Trace a stream back to its source and discover it doesn’t get a name on a map until it crosses a roadway. 

I had the opportunity at the invitation of No Water No Life founder Alison Jones to accompany her and Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership president, Dr Heather Fenyk on a complimentary flight provided by LightHawk to photograph the entire Raritan watershed from its two main sources all the way to Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook. 

The transition from a ground dweller to eagle was as breathtaking as it was revealing. Instead of only seeing puzzle pieces, the entire picture of the watershed miraculously appeared. Each segment lost its defined edges as the resolution increased; as if going from a pixilated image to a crystal clear picture. 

Though intimately familiar with each section of the river, I was lost when asked where we were at any given moment. I tried to rely on referencing the last known position but the speed at which we travelled, and the new cloud high perspective was surprisingly disorienting. It takes about an hour and ten minutes to drive to Sandy Hook from the point of the confluence of the Raritan and its main branches, it took only a few minutes to fly there. That alteration of time and distance also serves to overcome the linear relationship of diminishing interest over increasing distance, a lingering, innate human survival mechanism focused on serving the moment to save the day.      

The value of gaining a new perspective, where the threads reveal the weave of the cloth, provided an avenue for a holistic approach to temper human impact on the watershed as an entity. A change to any geo-politically defined segment must now be considered as systemic rather than an isolated local impact. Impervious surfaces increase upstream from housing developments and parking lots to flush more water into the river and exacerbate extreme weather flooding. Crops planted in the flood plain right to the edge of the river, cause erosion and silt build up to force flood waters further from the main river course.  

A good lesson to remember is the literary relationship of the word river to rivalry. The word for people drinking from the same stream or river was rival in French and rivalis in Latin.  When a downstream village’s drinking water was contaminated by the village upstream, it created a rivalry. Even in early times, the wisdom of what flows downstream was well ingrained in riverine communities, a lesson somewhat lost today. 

In lieu of boarding a plane, fire up your imagination. Imagination is a magic carpet that transcends available opportunity, bad weather and poor visibility to deliver needed perspective. Imagine if you can the water in the entire Raritan River watershed replaced with blue injection molded latex as a giant hand reaches down and grabs the main trunk of the Raritan River, pulls it from the earth, and holds it aloft as if it were a giant oak tree, its crown represented by the ocean. The fine mass of hairy threads leading into primary roots and finally forming a main trunk.  See the river as a tree, its form and function more similar than different.

River’s watershed or tree, both a conduit for flowing water, perhaps an alternative way to grasp the concept of the extent of a watershedOverlay this image on a land map to visualize a watershed, whose dimensions are typically presented in incomprehensible numeric values. Original artwork by Richard Reo

Loss of perspective is a demon that transcends all issues and stunts efficient problem solving, leads to false conclusions, lost time, and energy.  

Perspective may be gained in several creative ways, though it takes imagination and an open mind to intellectually take flight to see the whole picture. Once we realize our world is one entity and the smallest change has a cascading effect far downstream beyond where we figured the ripples terminated, we are better prepared to approach business, technology, relationships, education and nature while promoting the sage advice of ‘first do no harm”.

New York City as seen from the lower Raritan river begs a hand to reach out and touch it, as opposed to driving for hours on congested toll roads and across bridges. When distance and time reduced, it brings a new perspective and increased interestFlight compliment of LightHawk and No Water, No Life.

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.

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 9.23.2021

Raritan River Pathogens Monitoring 2021 is a wrap!

HUGE gratitude to our amazing team, all our partners, and especially our volunteers. We could not do this without: Michele Bakacs & Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Jessica Bonamusa & Interstate Environmental Commission, Priscilla Oliveria & The Watershed Institute, Jason Acevedo, Frank Dahl, Dorina Cardinale, Andrew Gehman, Janet Kenny Sacklow, Julisa Collado and extra special thanks to our wonderful Spanish language outreach coordinator Jocelyn Palomino!!

Pathogens results for our final day of sampling, Thursday September 23 are as follows:

As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

More flotsam/jetsam from Hurricane Ida. Here we see part of Piscatway’s runaway dock.
Other parts made it 5 miles downstream, and got lodged under the Route 1 Bridge! Photo credit: Monica Orso

We will miss our time in the field. Stay tuned for a results recap in December once we’ve had a chance to finish data entry and analysis.

Our wonderful Outreach Coordinator Jocelyn Palomino, and Rutgers CRSSA Steward Jason Acevedo were the backbone of our 2021 monitoring program. THANK YOU Jocelyn & Jason!!!

Fencing Hummers

Article and photos by Joe Mish

A small patch of red monarda grew wild in one corner of the fenced in garden, survivors of at least one deer who decided their minty flavor to be a perfect palate cleanser.  Much to the dismay of the late season hummingbirds, their over browsed food source left fewer opportunities for nourishment at a critical time, just prior to migration south.

The ownership of this last loaf of bread on the shelf, further intensified the territorial disputes that typically take place among hummers.

A young of the year male was feeding on the monarda, his dining strategy was to circle to the right, probing each scarlet tubule, then pulling back to hover for a moment, before repeating the flight pattern around the next floral head. Suddenly a second immature male appeared and the two began aerial acrobatics almost too fast to follow. Each bird disputed the property claim of the other. After close face to face sparring, they took off out of sight, separated by no more than a few inches.

It was impossible to differentiate one darting hummer from another, though the aggressor appeared to be the same bird, how many different challengers was in question.

Five minutes later another hummer appeared and began to feed with uncharacteristic speed, as if knowingly violating another’s territory, stealing as much as it could before the expected challenge from the self-proclaimed owner.

As expected, the challenge ensued. This time the interloper was inside the garden fence while the claim owner hovered outside the fence. So intense was their dispute, each floated in place commencing an aerial duel, with their needle like beaks, separated by the fence. It was a high noon showdown with unloaded weapons, as neither could be intimidated nor vanquished. The spectacle continued for a full minute until the aggressor realized the futility of his efforts and flew over the wire barrier to engage the trespasser. The two fencers immediately dropped their foils in favor of high aerial maneuvers to settle this territorial dispute.

While most hummingbird disputes consist of posturing, and aggressive aerial pursuits end harmlessly, another unexpected threat targeting hummers lurks among the flowers. The brown Asian preying mantis, an introduced species, will on occasion attempt to take and kill an unsuspecting hummer.  Having read about the relationship of mantis and hummer, it seemed a rare occurrence of low probability until one early September afternoon.

A female hummer was feeding on the blooms of native red cardinal flower. Being aware of how individual hummers have their own feeding strategy, circling always to the right or left, pulling back for a moment before going on to the next flower or just moving on to the next bloom without a slightest hesitation, I noticed something odd about this hummer. She seemed to take sideways glances diverting attention from the business at hand. Sure enough, there was the focus of her attention. A light brown Asian preying mantis whose body length exceeded that of the hummer. Likewise the mantis appeared aware of the hummer and waited to strike. As the hummer worked the flower, she always maintained awareness of the mantis and at one point faced it directly. All ended well for the hummer, though it is easy to imagine a new fledged hummer falling victim to this insect predator.

Two hummers in this image, one perched, the other making an intimidating fly by.

As delicate and diminutive as hummingbirds appear, they are tough, aggressive creatures whose late summer-early fall southward migration defies the imagination. Hummers are as close to magic and myth as anything in nature. The ability to hover and maneuver with almost invisible wings and float in the air probing brilliantly colored flowers, while robed in iridescent feathers that seem more metallic than organic and change color with movement, surely earns mythical status. As is within a hummer’s personality, it will often initiate a face face introduction as it stays suspended in mid air inches from your nose, looking directly in your eyes. It is a wild thought that the hummer has captured the image of your face as readily as you hold his image in memory, to be recalled and reviewed, perhaps in a future pleasant dream, whose memory fades upon waking, leaving only the hint of a smile on your lips.  

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

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 9.16.2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons.

Monitoring results for yesterday 9.16.2021 show despite relatively little precipitation this week, our numbers (particularly our fecal coliform counts) are stubbornly high. Per EPA standards we base suitable levels for primary contact on enterococci levels, which should not exceed 104cfu/100mL which explains why sites with high fecal coliform have “green smileys”.

With huge thanks to Jocelyn Palomino, Jason Acevedo, Frank Dahl and Doreen Camardi for their tireless volunteerism this Summer! Just two more weeks!

Jocelyn, Doreen and Jason at the Edison Boat Launch site. Where are the docks? We think Hurricane Ida washed them away! Thanks to Frank Dahl for the photo!

As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

Post-Ida Message from LRWP Board

It has been two weeks since Hurricane Ida dumped as much as 8.7 inches on our Lower Raritan communities. Chunks of dried brown-red river sediment still line the edges of Route 18 in New Brunswick. While most area roads function normally, traffic is detoured where rains opened sink holes, exposed failing culverts, and revealed weak spots in critical infrastructure. An abundance of trash, washed in by the deluge, remains along our streams and floodplains. Ida was a wake-up call: to improve our understanding of local hydrology, to identify locations of buried streams before culverts fail, and to respect and protect the flood management services of our floodplains.

Now that most of us have moved past tending the immediate mess of flooded homes and cars, we invite you to get involved with the LRWP to learn how hydrology works in your town, and to join in stewardship to clean up the collective mess Hurricane Ida left behind. Want to know how your town can better manage stormwater and address flooding? Register for our FREE virtual workshop on October 7: “Municipal Actions to Address Stormwater and Flooding.” Are you curious about flood gates, and the pros and cons of natural vs. engineered approaches to flood control? Join us October 3 for our second “walk in the watershed” in Bound Brook with Rutgers Professor David Tulloch, who will lead conversation about how the D&R Canal and the flood gates function in storms. Ready to roll up your sleeves to beautify our floodplains? Register for our September 26 clean-up in Highland Park! (And be sure to save the date for a multi-jurisdiction clean-up in Green Brook scheduled for October 23).

Finally, we encourage you to work with your town to make stormwater, stormwater utilities, and water infrastructure a centerpiece of municipal planning. Is your Environmental Commission or Town Council talking about flooding? Are FEMA floodmaps easy to find on your town’s website? Does your Master Plan consider minimizing upstream/downstream impacts of development on flooding in adjacent municipalities? Does your town have a stormwater education campaign? Is your engineer well versed in the latest water infrastructure best practices? Has your town developed a prioritized list of water infrastructure projects to earmark for American Rescue Plan and/or federal Infrastructure Bill funds? The LRWP website hosts a wealth of resources to help jumpstart these conversations.

See you in the watershed!

Heather Fenyk, President
Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

9.2 & 9.9 2021 Pathogens Monitoring

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons.

9.2.2021 Due to Hurricane Ida we were completely flooded in. No way in, no way out. Absolutely no way to access any of our sites. In fact, a few of them (at least the docks) may have floated away….

View from Albany Street (Route 27) looking toward Highland Park from New Brunswick. The Hyatt Hotel is on the right, Johnson & Johnson world headquarters on the left.
New Brunswick’s Raritan Landing.

9.9.2021 Raritan River pathogens count for all sites are in the “unsafe” range. In the wake of Hurricane Ida, we struggled to access several of our sites. Water is still high, the riverbanks are a trashy mess, and a few of our docks have floated away or been removed.

As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

Edison Boat Ramp and Docks after Hurricane Ida.

Habitat Connectivity Through Arts and Storytelling

By Anjali Madgula

In the midst of a public health crisis and extreme weather events, green spaces offer both refuge and reflection. During the global pandemic, we’ve embraced parks and shared areas knowing that open air environments can better protect us from airborne viruses.

At the same time, climate change asks us to question the binary narrative of natural versus built environment. Despite our long term trend of fragmenting ecosystems with roads, pavements, and developments in an attempt to separate human spheres and natural spheres, our everyday systems demand a complete infringement of that binary when our trash ends up in rivers and our pollution affects all living beings.

And what about wildlife who find their homes sectioned off by bustling traffic or fish whose travel routes are disrupted by human made barriers and culverts? Watershed volunteers across New Jersey and New York have been using data tools to determine what habitat connectivity restoration could look like to create new passageways and mitigate disrupted ones.

And fortunately, local artists and scholars have been hard at work to tell the story of the past and future within our watershed. Their projects remind us that accessing the narrative of habitat connectivity is very possible when we interrogate our coexistence via art and local knowledge of our natural world. By encouraging meaningful outdoor experiences we can challenge dominant narratives that reduce our natural world to just “scenery” and “background”.

March2RUGardens On September 25th

On September 25th, 2021 from 10 AM to 1 pm, community members will host a march from the Rutgers Cook/Douglass campus to the Rutgers Gardens. Yes, you heard that right! Locationally, Rutgers Gardens is isolated from being accessible to walkers and bikers as it requires travel via highway. The march will take unique routes to advocate for carbon neutral ways for us to reach the beautiful Gardens. As participants take this two mile walk they will be accompanied by incredible live performances of dance, music, and storytelling. Guests will learn from speakers about the history of the land that Rutgers was built on. To register for the event click here. And look out for the LRWP’s informational table at the end of the event!

#lookfortheriver FRAME in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park

The LRWP along with Colab Arts and Rubble R & D have completed our multi-year design and sculpture installation in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park. The FRAME sculpture aims to tell the story of the Raritan River over days, seasons, and years via a crowd-sourced photo database. The floodplain in Boyd Park suffers repeat flood inundation due to climate change and sea level rise. Through repeat digital photography we can understand possibilities for restoration and regeneration along our floodplains. We ask that park visitors participate as civic scientists by sharing their photos on Instagram using the hashtags #lookfortheriver and #lookfortheriverboydpark and tagging us @lookfortheriver.

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 8.26.2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons.

Monitoring results for yesterday 8.26.2021 show that our upstream sites (Piscatway, New Brunswick, Edison) are the ones with problems.

As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 8.19.2021

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County run a volunteer pathogens monitoring program from May to September every Summer. On Thursdays we collect water quality samples at 6 non-bathing public access beaches along the Raritan River, and report out the results on Friday afternoons.

Our results for 8.19.2021 are just about the worst we’ve seen this year. According to our lab, the wonderful Interstate Environmental Commission, for several of our sites the enterococcus and fecal bacterial levels were “TNTC” or “Too Numerous To Count.” The South Amboy Waterfront Park site is the only “winner” for the week. It is relatively clean, likely due to tidal flushing.

As always, if you choose to recreate on the water this weekend, stay safe, and be sure to wash your hands!  See here for more information on our pathogens monitoring program.

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