Let there be light

Article and photos by Joe Mish

The eternal cosmic clock, rewound by the choreographed dance of celestial bodies, precisely marks the rebirth of light and the start of winter.

The runway for January’s landing is lit nine days before, during the winter solstice. The lights grow brighter as the spinning earth tilts in relation to the sun. This delicate earthly pirouette is anything but a solo performance. Only in a state of cosmic equilibrium, held firmly in place by gravity, can the possibility of life occur.  

The relative stability of atmosphere and repetitious seasonal changes found on earth, provide the predictability and time, life requires to evolve and adapt.  

While the January first rewind is a human convenience, all life forms, humans included, have evolved to key in on the periodicity of increasing and decreasing day length.  Light, along with atmosphere, temperature, and gravity dictate the detailed specifications that must be met to exist. Life on the other hand, has no bargaining power and must somehow develop a form that embraces all the requirements set forth by the cosmic design as found on earth. 

Successful adaptation is critically dependent on the stability of environmental conditions. Life forms whose ability to adapt, lags behind the speed of change, simply go away. The constant effort to achieve existence,  results in an almost infinite variety of life, whether it be a blade of grass or an elephant. Each develops unique mechanisms to deal with seasonal changes in atmosphere and light.  New life forms are constantly being discovered while other life forms go extinct.

I find it amazing our existence depends on heavenly bodies, light years away, hurtling through space in well-choreographed orbits controlled by gravity. Even more amazing is how oblivious humanity is to its existential condition, hanging only by an invisible thread. Though cosmic events are out of our control, its link to our existence sparks imagination and wonder. The curiosity that arises when we look toward the heavens has a gravity of its own which draws us in to seek deeper knowledge. Imagination and creativity are set afire when faced with a gap in information. We are compelled to temporarily bridge the unknown with subjective theory, a vestige of our innate survival skills.  

As humans we are surrounded by natural wonders whose intended or unintended purpose is to fire our imagination and fuel our creativity to enhance our survival. In that way nature is teaching us how to fish as well as providing our daily bread. 

Wise words spoke of rendering to Caesar and following that advice we celebrate January first as a nod to society. Let us also be inspired by the brightness of January traced back to the winter solstice and that moment of perfect equilibrium between light and darkness. A celebration of the moment life began to stir on a planet spinning in the blackness of an infinite universe bounded only by our imagination.

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.

Green Brook clean-up 2020

The last clean-up of 2020 is in the books!

HUGE THANKS to the 60+ intrepid souls who joined the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership and Central Jersey Stream Team out on the Green Brook floodplain for our last clean-up of the year. It was a cold, windy, rainy, mucky start to the day – really only the cold abated by the time we wrapped up.

With appreciation to Green Brook Township, Green Brook Regional Centre, GreenBrook Lions, Sewa Central Jersey, Mr. Kevin Ellis’ Middle School Science class, our Hackensack Riverkeeper friends and all the wonderful volunteers for giving of their time to clean up our watershed!

A crazy amount of trash was collected including a mini fridge, large screen TV, a big inflatable banana and so much more. See below for a few photos from the day. See you in 2021!!

LRWP board member Anton Getz and CJST board member Jens Riedel spot an inflatable banana on the Green Brook
Green Brook Middle School science teacher Kevin Ellis and his students
Central Jersey Sewa volunteer fill dozens of bags with plastic bottles
THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!!

Reconnecting the Raritan: the role of dam removal in watershed restoration

Dams are devastating to our stream systems and watersheds. They fragment our riverine habitat with cascading impacts including reservoir sedimentation, channel degradation, water quality effects, and blockage of fish migrations. Socioeconomic and cultural effects include loss of homes and livelihood, compromised access for recreation, concentration of heavy metals in the food chain, hydraulic undertows and drowning risks, and the potential for dam failure.

Dam removal takes a big picture view of River restoration, advancing an approach that prioritizes restoring the rivers’ ability to create, retain, manage, and reconnect watershed habitats, rather than man made attempts to direct flow or artificially create habitats.

It would be hard to find anyone who has advanced a clearer vision for a restored Raritan and improved watershed habitat connectivity than hydrogeologist John W. Jengo, PG, LRSP. John, a licensed Professional Geologist in several Northeastern and Southeastern states and a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in New Jersey, works as a Principal Hydrogeologist in an environmental consulting firm in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Over the last 30 years John has drawn on degrees in geology from Rutgers University (1980) and the University of Delaware (1982) to conduct the characterization and remediation of large, complex contaminated industrial sites throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He played a key role in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) assessments that led to groundbreaking legal settlements to remove numerous low head dams on the Raritan and Millstone Rivers to restore historically significant migratory fish spawning runs. As technical project manager, he planned, permitted, and successfully managed the removal of the Calco Dam, the Robert Street Dam, and the Nevius Street Dam between 2008-2013, and the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River in 2017, along with leading the archaeological investigation of the former Weston Mill in the Borough of Manville and Franklin Township.

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership thanks John for developing a blog series that provides a history of five of the dams in the Raritan Basin, the problems they have caused, and the process of their removal. In this series of posts about the Calco, Nevius, Robert Street, Headgates and Westons Mill dams, John highlights his big picture view of restoration: reconnecting the Raritan River habitat.

Click on the links below to read John’s story of dams and dam removal on the Raritan Basin.

Calco Dam

Nevius Dam

Robert Street Dam

Headgates Dam

Westons Mill Dam

New tax rules encourage giving – at a crucial time

By Carolyn Lange, Community Foundation of New Jersey, reprinted with permission

The coronavirus has changed all our lives, but for many this year has been nothing short of devastating. Fortunately, the federal government has added new tax rules so individuals who have a little extra are encouraged to help those who are less fortunate. The new rules provide expanded benefits for New Jerseyans to give to their favorite causes, providing a much-needed boost to hard-hit communities and the non-profits that serve them.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, creates rare giving incentives for taxpayers at both ends of the income scale, with an eye toward addressing our communities’ challenges.

Individuals who do not itemize their taxes (a larger group than in past years given the doubling of the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for those filing jointly) will be able to deduct charitable contributions for the first time in 40 years. This deduction is limited to $300 for individual taxpayers and $600 for households filing jointly. Nearly 80% of taxpayers take the standard deduction so this new incentive is available to an enormous pool of potential donors.

Individuals who itemize deductions and seek to deduct as much as possible from their adjusted gross income (AGI) can now deduct up to 100% of their AGI. In past years, donors could only deduct 60% of their AGI through cash contributions to public charities; for 2020, that limit was raised to 100%.

Donating long-term appreciated securities or distributions from an IRA remain popular and effective options for reducing one’s overall tax burden while creating new philanthropy, though the rules associated with such gifts were not materially changed by the CARES Act. Donors who have realized significant capital gains, whether through stock, bonds, or real estate, are still subject to deduction limitations and should consult their financial and tax advisors.

The new tax rules relating to charitable giving from the CARES Act could not have come at a more critical time. We encourage all New Jersey residents who feel fortunate this year to reach out and give to those who need it most by supporting the hard-working organizations serving our communities and neighbors in this challenging time.

Of course the LRWP welcomes donations large and small – it is with your generous support that we can do the work we do!

Removing the Calco Dam

Article and photos by John W. Jengo

Calco Dam, positioned at Raritan River Mile (RM) 20.9, was located in Bridgewater and Franklin Townships, Somerset County, New Jersey just upriver from the Borough of Bound Brook.  Calco Dam, technically a low-head loss dispersant weir, was constructed in 1938 by the Calco Chemical Company, Inc. as part of the effluent conveyance system for a synthetic dyestuff manufacturing operation that had been established at this location in 1915.  To direct effluent flow to Calco Dam, a diversion structure was built on a natural stream (Cuckels Brook) 800 feet north of the dam, and as part of the diversion construction, a canal was dug from that structure to Calco Dam; a screening structure was installed at the end of the canal to prevent debris from flowing into the dispersant pipe inside the dam.  The center dispersant weir section of Calco Dam was 123 feet long and was composed of a 36-inch-diameter effluent tile pipe encased in concrete, which had on its downstream side a total of 41 8-inch-diameter outlets spaced three feet apart.  The weir structure was connected to the river banks by approximately 50- to 55-foot-long solid concrete abutments, making Calco Dam a run-of-the-river structure.  According to the original design drawings, Calco Dam varied in width between 21.25-23 feet and it had a structural height of approximately seven feet.  There was an 18-inch-thick, 12-foot-wide concrete apron extending downstream from the dam crest, ending in an apron toe section extending 3 feet below the river bed.

Calco Dam Before Removal

When the Somerset Raritan Valley Sewerage Authority (SRVSA) purchased the manufacturing site’s wastewater treatment plant operations in 1985, ownership of Calco Dam also transferred to SRVSA because the dam was an integral part of the facility wastewater effluent discharge system.  Although SRVSA was utilizing Calco Dam for discharging treated municipal effluent into the Raritan River when I approached them in 2008 about removing the dam, they were already in the process of designing and permitting an alternative effluent discharge route and outfall to the Raritan River, which would allow Calco Dam to be abandoned and removed.  SRVSA immediately recognized the value of eliminating the potential liability of a dam and they became the model of a cooperative dam owner in the subsequent contractual negotiations to grant us permission to remove Calco Dam.

The Calco Dam removal was successfully accomplished between July 18 and August 1, 2011, but the removal had an unique engineering component.  In planning the dam removal, I ascertained that the southernmost end of the dam had been incorporated into and under the towpath berm of the historic Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal, although a fair portion of this dam section had been subsequently exposed by scour eddies caused by water flowing over the dam.  The effect of any further excavation on the stability of the D&R Canal towpath berm was considered too risky to implement so a decision was to made to leave that southernmost section of the dam intact and rebury the section that had become exposed from the river’s scouring action. To isolate this dam section from the remainder of the structure that was to be removed required that a methodology be devised to cut through the entire dam structure with a minimal amount of disturbance to the towpath berm (the dam was much too thick to be saw cut).  Taking advantage of the same scour pool that had dangerously eroded into the base of the towpath berm, we built a temporary coffer dam around this section of the dam, dewatered it, and proceeded to drill and extract dozens of overlapping 6.5-inch diameter concrete cores across the width of the dam in the process known as “stitch coring.”  Once the isolation of this section of the dam was completed, we imported tons of properly-sized rock riprap and rebuilt the base of the D&R Canal towpath berm back into its original configuration with the southernmost dam fragment now serving as a stable foundation for the reconstruction.  Success of this restoration was tested just a few weeks later during back-to-back record flooding events from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee when this section of the repaired D&R Canal towpath berm held firm while other sections along the D&R Canal route suffered washouts and breaches.

Calco Dam During Initial Breaching
Calco Dam During Final Breaching
Calco Dam Stitch Coring

The number of returning migratory fish in the Raritan River the following spring heralded the remarkable and rapid recovery of the Raritan River at the Calco Dam location.   Based on observations at the upstream Island Farm Weir (IFW) fish ladder viewing window in the first spring migration season (March-May 2012) following the dam removal, the number of American shad migrating upstream increased 500% and the total number of fish passing through the IFW fish ladder increased by 200%.   This essentially instantaneous result propelled the planning of the next two dam removals, which were accomplished in just the next two years (Robert Street Dam in 2012 and the Nevius Street Dam in 2013), and this succession of three dam removals in just three years is considered to be one of the most ambitious river restoration efforts that have implemented to date.

Calco Dam After Removal

John W. Jengo, PG, LSRP is a licensed Professional Geologist in several Northeastern and Southeastern states and a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in New Jersey. John works as a Principal Hydrogeologist in an environmental consulting firm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has degrees in geology from Rutgers University (1980) and the University of Delaware (1982). Over the last 30 years, he has conducted the characterization and remediation of large, complex contaminated industrial sites throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He played a key role in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) assessments that led to groundbreaking legal settlements to remove numerous low head dams on the Raritan and Millstone Rivers to restore historically significant migratory fish spawning runs. As technical project manager, he planned, permitted, and successfully managed the removal of the Calco Dam, the Robert Street Dam, and the Nevius Street Dam between 2008-2013, and the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River in 2017, along with leading the archaeological investigation of the former Weston Mill in the Borough of Manville and Franklin Township.

That’s a wrap for 2020! Pathogens monitoring results for November 5

Yesterday was the last day of pathogens monitoring for 2020. Despite COVID-related challenges and the general difficulties of juggling an all volunteer program, we met EPA requirements for quality data and built a great data set. HUGE THANKS to our partners: Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County and the Interstate Environmental Commission. And much gratitude to all our wonderful volunteer monitors! We couldn’t do it without you!

Below are our pathogens results for 11.5.2020, followed by field notes for the day.

The LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County monitor for Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus at six non-swimming public beach access sites along the Lower Raritan during the warmer summer months. Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus are indicators of disease-causing bacteria in our waterways.

The EPA recommends that a single Enterococcus sample be less than 110 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/100mL for primary contact. Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Field notes for November 5, 2020

Another foggy start to the morning. Both our Riverside Park (Piscataway) and New Brunswick Boat House sites were gorgeous under a shroud of mist.

Looking toward Albany Street Bridge from the Rutgers Class of 1914 Boathouse

The views from our monitoring site in Perth Amboy are dramatic. To the left you look out to Raritan Bay and sailboats and huge ships heading into New York Harbor. To the right you look upstream, at the mouth of the Raritan, where the new “River Draw” train bridge is under construction.

Looking toward construction of the new train bridge from under the old “River Draw”

So long, see you next year!

While it is sad to end the sampling season, we will be happy to empty our trunk of monitoring supplies

Nevius Street Dam Removal

Article and photos by John W. Jengo

Nevius Street Dam before removal

The Nevius Street Dam at Raritan River Mile 27.0 was located just south of the Borough of Raritan, Somerset County, New Jersey.  This dam, also referred to as the “Duke Dam,” was constructed in 1901 by James Buchanan (Buck) Duke, the tobacco and hydropower industrialist, for aesthetic and recreational purposes as part of his development of Duke Farms, a 2,740-acre estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.  Careful examination of the dam indicated that it was constructed of dressed stone blocks arranged in a stair-step fashion set into a concrete core foundation that was 195 feet long, approximately 2.5 feet high from sill to crest, and approximately 6.5 feet in width. The picturesque dam and dam impoundment were often photographed in its early years, and some of these photographs were reproduced in the book Raritan [NJ] – Images of America, published in 2003.

The Nevius Street Dam was subsequently converted into an essential part of the Duke Farms water supply system when water pumping withdrawals from the adjacent Raritan Water Power Canal were discontinued in the early 1970s (this Canal water supply system was the original source of water that was pumped up to Duke Farms for irrigation and for circulation through a series of man-made lakes and waterfalls).  This conversion was accomplished by retrofitting a water intake grate on the north side of the dam, and installing a 205-foot long, 30-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipeline that conveyed surface water downriver into a subterranean chamber under the Duke Farms Powerhouse building, which was then pumped up to the Duke Farms reservoir (from there, the water cascaded through the numerous lakes and waterfalls on the property).  This modification allowed Duke Farms to utilize the same infrastructure that had previously provided both hydroelectric power and water supply to the property, although now that the surface water was flowing into the river-level penstock of the Powerhouse rather than falling from a substantial height from the Raritan Water Power Canal, the turbines of the Powerhouse were bypassed and, thus, fell silent.

In the runup to its removal, the Nevius Street Dam was still providing a vital service and with the pending removal of the dam, Duke Farms would be without a water supply for their renowned lake system.  As part of the arrangement to remove the dam, I performed a hydrogeological study at the property in 2012 to determine if new groundwater supply wells could be installed to replace the Raritan River surface water supply.   This alternative proved to be feasible, although it would not be possible to replace the approximately 750,000 to 1 million gallons that was typically pumped up to the Duke Farms reservoir each day.  The tradeoff of a lower volume of groundwater was that the groundwater would be free of high concentrations of total phosphorus, ammonia-N, and nitrate-N that are present in the Raritan River, an impairment caused by runoff of fertilizer and manure from agricultural fields, suburban lawns, and golf courses.   The Duke Farms Natural Resources team were expectant that the introduction of groundwater without excess nutrients might curtail the growth of curly-leaf pondweed and filamentous mat algae that has afflicted the lakes in the modern era.  

The installation of two groundwater water supply production wells was conducted in 2012 and 2016 and befitting Duke Farms’ commitment to the concept of “adaptive reuse,” I and the Duke Farms team conceived of a plan to repurpose underground pipelines that were built in 1909-1910 to connect the new production wells to the reservoir rather than excavate and install thousands of feet of new pipeline through the beautiful and pristine landscape of the property.  Detailed analyses of an original 1911 as-built construction drawing revealed an elaborate underground pipeline network not only leading from the Powerhouse to the reservoir that the current dam pumping system was utilizing, but also a second, intertwined pipeline network that formerly conveyed water from a long-lost Recirculation Plant along the Raritan River that had recovered water after it had flowed through the lake system and recirculated it back to the reservoir.  This pipeline was relocated in the field, flushed along its re-purposed length to remove accumulated sediment from its original operation, had its various values replaced, and was then connected to the new groundwater well field.  This reconfiguration of the water supply system has proven to be a great success and it allowed for the removal of the Nevius Street Dam, which was accomplished between July 24-July 31, 2013.

Nevius Street Excavator – Initial Breach
Nevius Street Excavator – Final Breach

In closing, I would like to acknowledge former Executive Director Michael Catania, Jon Wagar (Deputy Director), and Thom Almendinger (Director of Natural Resources and AgroEcology), and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Board for their cooperation and consent to remove the Nevius Street Dam.  Implementing this consequential water supply exchange from surface water to groundwater was not without risk so I am truly grateful for their trust, financial support, and steadfast resolve to implement this project, proving yet again that Duke Farms is a leader in environmental stewardship and an inspiration for citizens to become informed stewards of the land.

Nevius Street Dam After Removal

John W. Jengo, PG, LSRP is a licensed Professional Geologist in several Northeastern and Southeastern states and a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in New Jersey. John works as a Principal Hydrogeologist in an environmental consulting firm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has degrees in geology from Rutgers University (1980) and the University of Delaware (1982). Over the last 30 years, he has conducted the characterization and remediation of large, complex contaminated industrial sites throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. He played a key role in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) assessments that led to groundbreaking legal settlements to remove numerous low head dams on the Raritan and Millstone Rivers to restore historically significant migratory fish spawning runs. As technical project manager, he planned, permitted, and successfully managed the removal of the Calco Dam, the Robert Street Dam, and the Nevius Street Dam between 2008-2013, and the removal of the Weston Mill Dam on the Millstone River in 2017, along with leading the archaeological investigation of the former Weston Mill in the Borough of Manville and Franklin Township.

Lower Raritan Pathogens Results for 10.22.2020

The LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County monitor for Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus at six non-swimming public beach access sites along the Lower Raritan during the warmer summer months. Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus are indicators of disease-causing bacteria in our waterways.

The EPA recommends that a single Enterococcus sample be less than 110 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/100mL for primary contact. Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Below are our pathogens results for October 22, 2020.

Field notes for October 22, 2020

Fog blanketed much of the East Coast through the morning, and hung heavy over the Raritan until burning off around noon. Called “advection fog,” the mist forms when warm, moist air passes over a cool surface. Advection describes the movement of fluid, in this case the fluid is wind. When the moist, warm air made contact with the cooler surface air, water vapor condensed to create fog.

Ever wonder how all the rain that falls onto a highway is “disappears” for a safe driving experience? It is transferred via stormwater infrastructure — that is, pipes or channels — to and “outfall” at which the stormwater enters receiving waters (rivers, streams, or creeks). This outfall at New Brunswick’s Boyd Park conveys rainwater from Route 18 (above the arches) into the Raritan River at the Rutgers Class of 1918 Boathouse.

Lower Raritan Pathogen Results for 10.15.2020

The LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County monitor for Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus at six non-swimming public beach access sites along the Lower Raritan during the warmer summer months. Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus are indicators of disease-causing bacteria in our waterways.

The EPA recommends that a single Enterococcus sample be less than 110 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/100mL for primary contact. Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Below are our pathogens results for October 15, 2020.

Field notes for 10.15.2020

What a beautiful day for monitoring! Americorps Watershed Ambassador Caitlin DiCara helped us out with monitoring. We were also joined at our Piscataway and New Brunswick sites by our Windows of Understanding 2021 artist Marcia Shiffman. Marcia’s work for 2021 will focus on communicating the “hidden” social justice issue of inequitable access to nature.

Caitlin DiCara and Marcia Shiffman at our Riverside Park (Piscataway) site

We talked with Marcia and Caitlin about social barriers and physical obstacles to enjoyment of blue or green spaces or parks. In preparation for our listening session on Social Justice and Access to Nature, we identified a number of barriers to accessing nature. All of the below we observe as issues at non-bathing public access beach pathogens monitoring sites. These include:

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of landscape design

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of cost

-Not feeling welcome in a natural blue/green space or park because of economic status, or ethnic or cultural difference

-Cultural and/or language restriction present other barriers to enjoyment of time in natural spaces

-Bullying behaviors or material obstacles limit enjoyment of time in natural spaces for persons with disabilities

-Fear, anxiety, or feelings of helplessness in the face of crime limits time in natural spaces

What obstacles or barriers have we missed?

Our Thursday “regulars” fishing at the Edison Boat Launch
Not much tugging at these poles, Edison Boat Launch 10.15.2020

We are Resilient: A Raritan Story

Article by Anjali Madgula, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2020 Environmental Communications course.

Anjali’s article was written to be shared on World Ecology and Ecologists Day, celebrated annually on November 1. World Ecology and Ecologists Day reminds people of the importance of knowing and valuing the relationships that exist between living beings and their environment, and raises awareness among our people about the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship with our environment. Anjali’s piece was inspired by the way The Overstory by Richard Powers describes people connecting with nature while being informative, and inspiring environmental advocacy. Narrated from the point of view of the Raritan River itself, this piece piece details the work of the local community along the Raritan and connections between the people and soil, species, and water of the Raritan Watershed.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Richard Powers, The Overstory

On the Banks

They grew themselves amongst trees and concrete.  Painting and playing on both bark and pavement. The young ones running around the city, mapping out their neighborhood, smiling curiously at their happy natural counterparts: the ever growing trees and plants tracing along their route to school. The bright-eyed young ones are the future caretakers of this community but I worry about the uncertain future we will inherit together.

Loss

In 2012, 1 billion gallons of sewage overflow discharged into my waters. I cannot safely provide for my ecosystem or the creatures who rely on me for sustenance anymore. This has grave and dire consequences for our community. I’ve felt damaged, toxic, polluted, and dangerous for as long as I can remember. I saw firsthand the horrors of pollution and how endless the cycle of poisoning can be till living things die in the hands of each other.

Our Shared Ecosystem

But, then people began to organize, to investigate and empower. They are Streamkeepers, community leaders, volunteers, students, and creatures of this ecosystem leading not only towards restoration but a totally new and reimagined mode of coexistence and value. They have promised to never forget how easy it is to destroy ecosystems.

Education

In school, they now teach the young ones about me. They learn about protecting each other and preserving nature. They illustrate and recognize the most endangered species in close proximity to them- species like the Blue Spotted Salamander and Red Tailed Hawk. The educators and students have a big ask. To learn from the past and to in essence, relearn the relationship between humans and nature. They know that the implications can be incredible when we empower beautiful futures in classrooms.

Art

#Lookfortheriver! They wrote this phrase on pavements, on posters- they made art, and built solidarity around my persistence to live on. They made understanding of sea level rise and urban flooding accessible to all through their social movement. They built streamside sculptures and paid homage to the hidden streams and impacts of climate change on local floodplains. They asked the community to see for themselves to create their own perspective and become civic scientists. They organized clean ups and displayed the valiant act of human hands working together and removing pieces of trash through sculpture as a testament to our community’s stewardship.         

Resilience

               I feel visible again as people in their homes and streets dream of me and sing to me. They study me, and create visions of my strength and resilience. They anticipate the dangerous need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and future storms as a coastal community. They build and build coalitions to change infrastructure and dream of clean accessible water and a world without pollution. We look to each other in doing so and promise to never pollute the world with hate and injustice, to let all living things be free and respected. We remember the past in order to create something better.

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019 and 2020, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

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