Article by Rutgers Raritan Scholar Intern Allie Oross
On Saturday, July 7th, the LRWP led the New Brunswick Environmental Commission and other members of the New Brunswick community in a project on the Redmond Street side of Lord Stirling Elementary School. The final product of their hard work is manifested in a whimsical sidewalk mural that not only serves as a form of neighborhood beautification, but also a semi-permanent reminder of the intricate roles human’s play in the environment.
New Brunswick Environmental Commissioners, residents and LRWP friends paint flowers
Funded through an Americorps alumni grant secured by Thalya Reyes, and designed by former Americorps alum Johnny Malpica, interwoven swirls paint a picture of natural necessities that are integral aspects in every single person’s day to day life. In the mural, clouds create rain drops that collect to form a pulsing river. That river then flows into a set of flowers being pollinated by a bee and a butterfly with the next section displaying a fish in the river. Though the images are depicted in a delightfully playful and abstract manner, each can also be interpreted as a representation for a much more crucial concept:
We, as a community and as a species, must never forget how inextricable we are from the environment. You cannot have one without the other, and though we may seem separated from nature, the gap is almost always smaller than we may think.
New Brunswick Environmental Commissioner Howie Swerdloff paints a river
A few blocks down from the sidewalk mural is the Raritan River. A core purpose for the mural is to act as an expression of the course stormwater runoff takes through the New Brunswick streets every time it rains. After rain events our streets often serve as veins pumping litter and pollution into the heart of our waterways. Out of sight should never mean out of mind when discussing the environment, and the mural engages citizens to remember there is nature all around us if we only make the effort to search for it.
Article and Photos by Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward
Internship Diary / June, 2018
So summer is in full swing – I made a visit to the Ambrose Brook immediately after the summer solstice, on 24 June 2018. The environs have changed in several ways, both passive and active. There are several aerating fountains that spray a cool mist that is distributed by the shifting breezes off the water. The highwater mark on the center island has changed since I last visited, probably because of late spring run-off. But the water has even been higher, as evidenced by the residue on all of the banks, the tree roots that extend into the water, and the low-lying bushes. All are wearing a dusty mud color that gives evidence of water that has since receded. Water flow has significantly strengthened, as is noticeable over the modest waterfall close to Rte. 28. In addition, the rain run-off in the two drains has increased, so that more than a trickle from both of them is observable as it enters the brook after the waterfall.
Fauna have increased. One of my prize observations was that of a somewhat lazy or perhaps sleepy but wary blue heron standing on just one leg somewhat in the middle of the stream, past the waterfall. I tried to ease my way in a stealthy and languorous manner along the bank to not call attention to myself, but alas, the heron quickly reacted to my not so subtle approach, was on to me as I slowly worked my way toward the lovely bird . S/he dropped the second leg into the water, turned a cold shoulder in my direction, then deliberately moved away from where I had planted myself on the bank opposite to his/her position. Even though the distance between us stayed about the same, I was so taken by the proximity of this lovely creature and my ability to observe without causing a startled reaction. S/he continued a slow and deliberate saunter down the creek and disappeared around the bend. What a treat to be able to be a silent observer of a stream visitor. Nice!
I also noted that the population of Canadian geese has multiplied to a startling extent. And the birds have become so accustomed to human presence that they barely move when a vertical mammal saunters among them, even when they are settled down and roosting on the grass, the available paths or the cement. In order not to encourage their presence, the township has placed signs that pointedly give the command NOT to feed the waterfowl. Obviously, they greatly outnumber any other visitors to this place, either animal or human. And needless to say, mementos and tokens of their presence are all around, some pleasant and others not so much. An addition to the command to not feed the waterfowl would be “Watch your step and be sure to check your shoes before getting in your vehicle.”
Another observation is that butterflies and moths inhabit the environs, with several Monarchs making their graceful presence known as they fluttered past and through my line of vision. Their wingbeats cast a silent beat to the pulse of the planet as they made their way over and through the environs.
Human presence has also increased. It should be noted that the four walkways that run over and parallel to the stream offer an unobstructed view. And all of them are handicap accessible either all or in part. In other words, on all of them ramps are available so that proximity to the stream can be achieved. People who are fishing on the walkways are only part of the traffic. There were several runners, families with tots and strollers, and other quiet observers to finish out the panorama. My next visit in July will be for another stream assessment, boots, thermometer, floating duck, ruler at the ready Happy summer, everyone!
We are just a few days shy of July 1, 2018, which marks the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act’s failure to meet it’s “fishable-swimable” goals for our nation’s waters. What does this mean for New Jersey’s waters? The most recent published report (2014) on New Jersey’s water quality tells us that only 16% of our waters fully support general aquatic life. That is, the vast majority of our waterways are not clean enough for drinking water, aquatic life, fish consumption, or even recreation.
The Clean Water Act was about more than the protection of recreation, and fish and wildlife propagation. It was an “interim goal of water quality” intended to lead to “fishable and swimmable” waters by July 1, 1983, and to “the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.” But more than a third of a century later the quality of our waterways, especially waters in our urban and historically impacted areas, are far from meeting fishable and swimmable goals.
Why? Because existing laws don’t ban pollution. They allow for polluters and developers to secure permits to pollute. The Clean Water Act is especially weak in terms of regulating the number one source of pollution in our national (and notably our New Jersey) waterways: stormwater.
Urban non-profit environmental organizations, like the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership that I run, go about the daily work of advocating for local watershed management strategies like stormwater utilities and Green Infrastructure to address the water quality and quantity problems in our watersheds. And state-wide collaborative efforts like Jersey Water Works are making tremendous strides to transform New Jersey’s water and wastewater treatment and delivery infrastructure. But without a wholesale shift in thinking around pollution in our waterways, our local waters will never meet the “fishable, swimmable” goals as set out by the CWA, no matter how many Combined Sewers we take off line, or how many rain barrels and rain gardens we install.
What else should be on our radar? How should we be rethinking water pollution policy in New Jersey? On the anniversary of the 35th year of the failure of the CWA to meet it’s goals, we offer you our top 10 ideas for effective change:
Fund major research and development for innovative water treatment and water quality monitoring technologies;
Offer economic incentives to polluters who perform beyond the minimum requirements of the law;
Add public health objectives to our water pollution control laws;
Prioritize clean-up and restoration of polluted waterways, especially in our economically disadvantaged communities;
Establish new target dates for achieving fishable, swimmable waters in New Jersey;
Establish target dates for completely eliminating the discharge of pollutants in our waterways;
Develop real-time monitoring technologies that protect water consumers and recreational users;
Increase enforcement of existing laws;
Establish mandatory monitoring for emerging pollutants including micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals and hormones;
Develop a central repository for information and resource sharing on best management practices in the state.
We welcome comments, additions and suggestions. Email us to share yours: firstname.lastname@example.org
Active CSO Discharge, Perth Amboy – photo credit: Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz
Me with my bat box installed on the roof of a building in downtown New Brunswick
The plight of the Indiana Bat has been on my radar since 2015, when I first researched this species as part of a blog series I wrote about endangered species in the Lower Raritan Watershed. At that time I became aware of several obstacles the bats face, including development of their natural habitats, overcrowding of colonies due to lack of habitat, increased exposure to predators (due to unsubstantial habitat cover) and White Nose Syndrome. This year, as I started my 8th grade service project, I knew I wanted to do something to help the bats. The thing was, I had no idea where to start.
Originally, building a bat box was not even on my mind. I thought I was either going to plant trees that the bats could roost in, or do an outreach campaign to raise awareness on the bat’s plight. It seemed however that it would be difficult to find the exact right place to plant trees, and it would take too long for them to grow. I also felt that general outreach would not make a specific measurable impact. As I continued my research I came across a Youth Service Action article that listed 10 different projects to do to help the environment. Building a bat box was on the list. I thought “Perfect! What’s better to help the bats than to build a safe habitat?”
I downloaded bat box building instructions from the National Wildlife Federation, raised money to fund the project, and reached out to different entities to gain permission to install my bat box on their property. I had three possible sites in mind, two on New Brunswick park land and one on private property – all sites known to have bat activity. The City of New Brunswick never returned my emails or phone calls, but the landlord of an apartment complex gave me permission to install the bat box on the roof of his building.
After securing permissions, I purchased supplies from Home Depot and constructed the bat box with help from my uncle. The building process of the bat box took just a few hours; I hand cut the wood, stained the wood with a non-toxic dark stain, assembled the bat box and painted the box. The whole process took less time than I thought, and I waited two weeks to install the box on April 17th. I decided to wait to install the bat box on April 17th because the 17th is National Bat Awareness Day.
I had an amazing time completing the project, and I am very glad I built the bat box, because it helps address a very serious local environmental issue. I hope my act of service inspires you to also perform service in your local community.
By Arianna Illa, Coordinator, Civic Engagement and Experiential Learning, Middlesex County College
The Watershed Sculpture Project: Middlesex County College
On Tuesday, November 21st of last year, students enrolled in Integrated Reading and Writing (ENG 096) at Middlesex County College (MCC) did something unusual for a typical college course. Rather than meeting in their classroom, they boarded a college van to travel to the Fox Road underpass, a stretch of road off the highway in Edison, NJ. This class excursion was the culminating event following a semester focused on reading, writing, discussing, and learning about environmental issues faced by local communities. In collaboration with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) and the Edison Environmental Commission, students planned and executed a community cleanup service project as part of the greater service learning initiative happening at the College.
Students Jessica Colon or Rahway (left) places trash in the bag held by Carolyn Muncibay of Old Bridge.
The cleanup involved spending 3 hours of class time bagging trash and recyclables along the underpass. The location of the cleanup was especially significant as it is uphill from the Raritan River. When it rains, trash and other contaminants travel downhill, further polluting the already vulnerable river. By the end of the cleanup, 17 bags of trash and recyclables, nine tires, a suitcase, car seats, as well as other large trash items were collected.
John Keller, Director of Education and Outreach of CoLAB Arts, assists students during the hand sculpture creation process.
During the cleanup, students selected one small trash item to bring back to campus. In collaboration with local arts advocacy organization CoLAB Arts, students created cement hand sculptures which are now on display in the MCC College Center in an exhibition titled The Watershed Sculpture Project: Middlesex County College. Each sculpture is of a student’s hand holding the trash item they saved from the cleanup.
The display demonstrates the large impact seemingly “small” amounts of littering can have on the environment as a whole, and likewise demonstrates the power of simple acts of stewardship (including stream clean-ups and socially engaged art) to effect positive environmental change. This work seeks to raise awareness of issues of environmental damage happening in the local community, and to prompts viewers to examine and reflect on their own relationship and interactions with the environment.
If your non-profit organization is interested in getting involved with service learning at MCC, please contact Arianna Illa, Coordinator of Civic Engagement and Experiential Learning, at email@example.com.
On Saturday May 5 several partners helped the Borough of Bound Brook inaugurate its first kayak/canoe launch site. A partnership between the Borough and New Jersey American Water (NJAW) resulted in an access agreement to allow recreational use of private land, giving paddlers a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and NJAW allows the public to put their watercraft into the Raritan in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.
Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera and Council President Abel Gomez were joined by representatives of South Bound Brook; Somerset County; New Jersey American Water; Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings; the Raritan Riverkeeper; National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance; and members of the public for the ribbon cutting and launch ceremony on a beautiful spring day. Signs explaining how to use the access site with a map of downtown Bound Brook greeted launch users in English and Spanish.
Council President Abel Gomez noted: “This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists. This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. The launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”
In addition to the access to the River for paddlers, the Plan calls for the creation of a park along the waterfront from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook, including the development of a riverfront trail system for pedestrians and bicyclists using inactive rail corridor and a levee system. Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz explained that the “launch site will mean that paddlers can now travel all the way from Bound Brook downstream to Perth Amboy and the Raritan Bay, about 18 miles. Raritan River recreation complements the land-based recreation currently available on the south side of the river, as part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park.”
The Borough is receiving technical assistance from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders, including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer on behalf of Wyeth Holdings, and members of the Bough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
A partnership between the Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will give kayak and canoe enthusiasts a new access point to the Raritan River. The agreement between the Borough and New Jersey American Water allows the public to put their watercraft into the River in an area owned by NJAW under the Queens Bridge in the Borough.
“This launch site for kayaks and canoes is part of a bigger plan to restore public access to the Raritan River. In 2015, the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee published Riverfront Access Plan for Pedestrians and Bicyclists,” said Bound Brook Council President Abel Gomez.
“This plan puts forth strategy and initiatives for a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian network to connect downtown commercial areas with the riverfront. This launch site is another element that makes Bound Brook a destination area.”
In addition to the access to the River for kayaks and canoes, the Plan calls for an open space along the waterfront, from Queens Bridge to Middle Brook. This would include the formalization of a Bound Brook Riverfront Trail System for pedestrians and bicycles and a creation of a riverfront park. The Plan can be found by going to this url: http://boundbrook-nj.org/MasterPlan/RiverAccessPlan
The Borough received a technical assistance award from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program in 2017 and 2018. The NPS helped form a steering committee made of local stakeholders including New Jersey American Water, Somerset County Planning Division, Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Pfizer, and members of the Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
The Borough of Bound Brook and New Jersey American Water will formally open Bound Brook’s Riverfront Access Launch at noon on Saturday, May 5, 2018. The launch is located under the Queens Bridge in Bound Brook. RSVP required.
For more information about the kayak and canoe launch site or to RSVP for the ribbon cutting ceremony, contact Bound Brook Borough Administrator Hector Herrera 732-893-8520.
Rutgers Raritan Scholars Interns Justin So and Allie Oross join New Brunswick Environmental Commission Chair Erin Connolly to hand out milkweed seeds at the New Brunswick Food Forum
On a bright morning at 10 AM in the hallways of A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School, tables from multiple community groups lined the halls in anticipation of the 7th Annual New Brunswick Food Forum organized by the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (NBCFA). Most of the interest groups were related to food and health within the local community and, as the first visitors started to file in, it was evident that these were topics of both concern and interest. Soon the hallways were bustling with adults and children alike from the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) table was promoting the importance of pollinator plants (plants that attract pollinator species) as we handed out milkweed seeds and vegetable seedlings. Children could choose to plant their own milkweed seed at one of our tables and many of them enjoyed the opportunity to get their hands dirty.
Pollinators are animals that assist in the fertilization of plants by transferring pollen from the male anatomy of the flower to the female parts. Pollinators can include bees, butterflies, bats, and birds and are essential for plant biodiversity. The number of pollinators in an area has a direct and positive correlation with the general health of an ecosystem. When these biotic vectors rifle around within the flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck to their legs or bodies and when they go to the next flower they take that pollen with them. This allows for diverse genotypes within plant populations that would not be seen without the assistance from pollinators.
The LRWP’s goal in handing out milkweed was not only to encourage an increase in pollinator populations in our urban community, but to also increase public awareness and involvement. We asked that people tend to their milkweed plant and watch it grow for two months, then join us and the New Brunswick Environmental Commission for a “pollinator planting day” on Sunday June 17. At that time the plan is to plant the milkweed seedlings and other pollinator plants in New Brunswick’s Buccleuch Park Pollinator Garden. Though most of the people who visited our table were initially unsure what a pollinator was, many took an interest in the health of our environment and were enthusiastic about the prospect of taking an active role in its prospective remediation.
The ability of our environment to efficiently and cohesively function is of drastic importance to every single person that lives within it. Conveniently enough, that same environmental ability depends mostly on the decisions made and actions taken by our very own species.
As Earth day rolls around, it is vital that we reflect on anthropogenic interference in nature and take responsibility for the consequences of over-development and urbanization. If most of the damage to the planet is caused by humans, then it is a logical conclusion that humans also possess the solution. Events like the Food Forum that engage community education and interaction are integral for the remediation of our planet and decreasing the prevalence of apathy and ignorance within our population.
Even after today’s snow has melted and flowed from our streets, through our stormwater system, and out to Raritan Bay, our local streams and the Raritan River will carry the scars of our desire to drive quickly in wintry conditions.
Too often we forget that the salt we apply to our streets, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks is a pollutant that permanently stays in our water bodies and groundwater.
As we imagine warm summer days playing in the surf on the Jersey shore, basking in the sun and tasting salt spray, let’s remember that the salts we put on roadway surfaces ends up in our waterways. These salts increase the mobilization of heavy metals and other pollutants in roadside soils, causing erosion and aiding transport of pollutants into our waterways.
It is the case that in urbanized areas like the Lower Raritan Watershed, the first flush of meltwater is two-to-three times as salty as ocean water. We can float in the ocean because salty water is more dense than freshwater, and sinks to the bottom. Salts likewise sink to the sediments in our freshwater bodies, where they decrease oxygen levels, essentially strangling the animals that live in the benthic (bottom) layer.
These bottom-dwelling animals (benthic macroinvertebrates) are some of the most sensitive species in our ecosystem. They form the base of the food chain, and when they die off, the creatures higher up on the food chain, including fish, can’t find food.
Salt is toxic, but necessary for public safety. We are all part of the problem with over applying it, and all part of the solution, too. The top five things you can do now:
In winter, drive for the season. Our collective demand for perfectly-cleared roads is a major barrier to protecting our waterways
Ask your municipal and county leaders what they are doing to minimize salt usage on public roads.
Hire maintenance firms that have taken salt application training.
Minimize your personal use by removing snow quickly and distributing only about one coffee mug of salt for a typical driveway.
Be sure to clean up any leftover salt, sand, and de-icer to save and reuse as needed.