Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Lower Raritan

Today we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with many state and other offices recognizing the holiday as Columbus Day. In rethinking how we celebrate American history, we reflect on the original people of our watershed: the Algonquin, known as Lenni Lenapi (Lenape). The tribal name Lenape can be translated from the Algonquin language, to mean “Original People or True People”.

Did you know: Our present day travel patterns are still significantly defined by the Lenape trail system? These travel patterns endure, despite the Lenape being pushed out of the watershed by expanding European colonies in the 18th century.

Map courtesy John P. Snyder

One of the most famous historic trails is the Assunpink, which derives its name from the Algonquin word Ahsën’pink – meaning “stony, watery place.” This trail traced a path between the Delaware River in south and the Raritan River in the north. Now a roadway system, the Assunpink has served as a route linking Philadelphia and Perth Amboy for European settlers and their descendants. George Washington used the trail during the American Revolution. Names attributed to it have included: the Old Dutch Trail, The King’s Highway, Lincoln Highway, and Route 27.

For a fun day trip you might consider tracing the historic Assunpink Trail or the nearby East Coast Greenway by foot or bike!

Lower Raritan pathogens results for 10.8.2020

Photos and article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

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 8, 2020. These are some of the best results of the season so far!

Please note: results are preliminary and pending quality control.

Field notes for 10.8.2020

Every Thursday morning for the past 10 weeks of monitoring we have been greeted by a pair of mute swans at our Piscatway Riverside Park monitoring site. Although Mute Swans are not native to our area, and their aggressive behavior and voracious appetites disturb local ecosystems and displace native species, they are known to mate for life and these two seemed to have a special bond. It was a sad sight to find one of the pair floating along the dock this morning, it’s partner just a few yards away.

Things didn’t get much better, with fish kills at our Edison and Sayreville sites. The gorgeous view off one of the Ken Buchanan docks belied the mess in the water.

One of the docks at the Ken Buchanan Sayreville site.
A few of the dozens, if not hundreds, of dead fish in the Raritan at Sayreville 10.8.2020

An Interview with LRWP Board Member Anton Getz

Interview by Emily Koai, LRWP Spring 2020 Raritan Scholar

Anton Getz, LRWP’s newest board member, is a Mapping Specialist with Michael Baker International, where he is the GIS Lead, Project Manager, and Instructor for their Floodplain Management Division. Volunteers for LRWP’s stream clean-ups will likely remember Anton as the fellow “in the water” during our events, where he helps strategize safe removal of large items from our streams. Anton has a background in geography, and is passionate about environmental stewardship and sustainability, natural resource conservation, clean water advocacy, sustainable land use, historic preservation, and local food systems.

LRWP Board Member Anton Getz at a stream clean-up – his natural habitat!

EK: Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

AG: I have lived in the Lower Raritan Watershed my whole life. I went to Rutgers and studied Geography, and now work on flood hazard mapping, mitigation, and risk communication for a living. I have a love and appreciation for nature and the outdoors and have a known bad habit of taking too many outdoorsy photos. I’m also an animal person and have always had dogs as a companion.

EK: Did you have any passion projects in your career that led you to where you are today?

AG: I have been doing consulting work for FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program for over a decade. This work is mostly focused on floodplain mapping, but also includes working on regulations, insurance implications, and hazard mitigation. The FEMA program has helped me see how our land development patterns have gravitated towards water over time. Serious flood hazard exist that are not obvious to normal folks on a day-to-day basis. It is so difficult to successfully communicate data, hazards, and risks to people! This work has shown how interdisciplinary water issues are—public safety, environmental health, public policy, economic activity, and social “sense-of-place” all play a role in our relationship with water.

EK: How has working with the LRWP helped enhance your personal goals for the watershed?

AG: I have been doing cleanups with LRWP for few years and joined the board earlier in 2020. We had a full slate of event-planning for the year until COVID-19 hit. So, I would say goals and progress have been slowed for the moment, but I hope that I can help grow the cleanup program, recreational activities, and donor support.

EK: How have you encouraged engagement with the watershed in your community?

AG: I’m more of a doer than a talker. I stay late at cleanups! Sometimes to the dismay of the organizers…and I work hard. Perhaps you can call it inspiration through action.

EK: Why are stream cleanups important with regard to community engagement?

AG: Stream cleanups personalize the impact of our collective human activities. We can be very insulated from the full life cycle of our consumption choices—not seeing where our stuff came from or where it goes after we are done with it. Doing a stream cleanup sheds lights on the question of where it goes, and even where it came from. “Why are there so many pieces of Styrofoam coffee cups in the river?  How did a municipal recycling bin get into the river? Why are there plastics bottles filled with pee in the rivers?” With this knowledge, communities can make informed decisions about collective and personal activities. Do they want to zone and approve more businesses that produce single-use litter in their towns? Will individuals choose to purchase more package-less food from a farmer’s market? And so on.

EK: How do you see this work progressing in the future?

AG: We were trending towards and starting to plan more cleanups and more community events with growing and diversified engagement. The LRWP has certainly impressed me with its ability to attract and engage a really diversified group of supporters and volunteers. However, uncertainty has descended upon us with the COVID-19 outbreak. When and how we return to community events is unknown at this point. I hope it does not discourage turnout when we do start to resume activities, but perhaps instead inspires people to act more locally on behalf of the health of the environment and people.

EK: What is your message to anyone that wants to be more engaged?

AG: I am relatively new to the environmental non-profit world in terms of taking action beyond what I do on my own, at home, such as limiting water and energy usage, eating locally, taking care of material items so they last, etc. So it’s never too late to start. My advice would be to find a cause you believe in, talk to people involved with that cause, ask questions, and volunteer your time. It will open up doors.

Raritan River Pathogens Results for 10.1.2020

Photos and article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

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 1, 2020. These are about the worst results of the season so far. Two of our sites had colony forming units (cfus) that were TNTC or “too numerous to count”.

Please note: results are preliminary and pending quality control.

Field Notes for 10.1.2020

Our sites may be “dirty” but they are also beautiful, and places where many go for fishing, recreation, and to learn more about the natural and constructed world.

Gorgeous views at our Riverside Park (Piscataway) site belie what are typically our worst pathogens counts for all monitored sites
Our friends at the Edison Boat launch site told us the water was too dirty to catch anything but eels. LOTS of trash floating in the water at this site this week.
This is the fifth week of red tide conditions at our monitoring site in South Amboy
Check out the video we capture of a simultaneous train crossing of the picturesque Raritan River “River Draw” in Perth Amboy!

See our blog post for more information on the River Draw Bridge, and the Raritan River Bridge replacement project.

“River Draw” Bridge Replacement Project

Photos and article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

The last several weeks of pathogens monitoring in Perth Amboy have given us a front seat view of in-water preparations for the Raritan River Bridge replacement project. The bridge replacement project entails construction of a new drawbridge on New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line, spanning the mouth of the Raritan River between the city of South Amboy and the city of Perth Amboy, west of the existing bridge. The ceremonial “groundbreaking” was September 15, and the crew is now working on the project in earnest.

Bridge replacement work will include providing a 300-ft-wide lift channel for boats, as well as demolition of the existing bridge following completion of the new bridge. The existing movable bridge, a swing span built in 1908 and known as River Draw, sustained significant damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 when it was struck by a runaway tugboat, shifting it on its pilings and requiring emergency repair before being placed back in service. The overall project cost is $595 million, and the new bridge will integrate resilient structural designs and materials to withstand future storm surges and be significantly less vulnerable to severe weather events.

Video of crossing of east bound and west bound trains on River Draw 10.1.2020
Work barge making preparations for a new Railroad Bridge in Perth Amboy
LRWP Board Member Alex Zakrewsky at Raritan Rail Bridge excavation site
River Draw train bridge, Perth Amboy
The River Draw in view of a Combined Sewer Overflow at Perth Amboy’s 2nd Avenue

Webinar: What do the Stormwater Management Rules Mean for My Town?

What Do the Stormwater Management Rules Mean for My Town?

Webinar Hosted by Monmouth County Division of Planning

Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 10:00 am | 1 hour 30 minutes | Eastern Time (US & Canada)

This spring, NJDEP adopted the amended Stormwater Management Rules which are set to take effect in March 2021. The Rules require new major developments to manage stormwater with green infrastructure and require municipalities to revise their municipal stormwater control ordinances. To help engineers and municipalities understand and implement the new rules, the Monmouth County Division of Planning is hosting a webinar with presenter Gabe Mahon, Bureau Chief of NJDEP’s Bureau of Nonpoint Pollution Control.  After the presentation, there will be an opportunity for Q&A.  The event will take place via WebEx on October 15 at 10 a.m. You do not need to register for this event.  Just join the meeting using the link below at the scheduled time.  Questions can be directed to Bridget.Neary@co.monmouth.nj.us or Amber.Mallm@co.monmouth.nj.us.

To Join:  https://countyofmonmouth.webex.com/countyofmonmouth/j.php?MTID=m833355a8f7af7934953c364f441ec28b

Meeting number: 173 720 9745

Password: Ji5qVU8HmQ9

Join by phone

+1-408-418-9388 United States Toll

Access code: 173 720 9745

World Vegan Day in the Lower Raritan: The Greener Grass on the Other Side

Article by Angely Melendez, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2020 Environmental Communications course

November 1, 2020 is World Vegan Day. Want to celebrate? See below for a listing of the many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the Lower Raritan Watershed to choose from!

Plant Based Restaurants in the Lower Raritan Watershed

WatchungMexico Grillhttps://www.mexicogrillnj.com/
BridgewaterCavahttps://order.cava.com/stores/70/menu
New BrunswickVeganizedhttp://veganizedfoods.com/
South AmboyHibachi Expresshttps://www.hibachiexpressandsushi.com/
East BrunswickSweetberryhttps://www.sweetberrybowls.com/eastbrunswick
UnionKiller Veganhttps://killervegan.com/
MatawanVegan Treehttps://www.vegantreematawan.com/
Old BridgeThai Thai Cuisinehttp://thaithaistirling.com/
MonroePersis Indian Grillhttp://persismonroe.com/menu/
EnglishtownSawanhttps://www.sawanmarlboronj.com/#menu
MarlboroOver Easy Kitchenhttps://www.overeasykitchen.com/
MillstoneThe Chozhashttps://thechozhas.com/

Reasons to go Vegan or Vegetarian

Ask someone just 20 years ago if they’d go vegetarian or vegan and they’d say no, you’re crazy. Meat has always been a staple within American cuisine and continues to be so, but even in the last 3 years there has been a 600% increase in Americans who consider themselves vegan. A staggering percentage, to say the least, but although those numbers are great, that’s still only 6% of American consumers in 2017 (“Veganism is at an All-Time High: Is it A Fleeting Fad or The New Norm?” 2018).

For the meat eaters out there that are still unsure of what the excitement is all about, I want to introduce World Vegan Day. This day visits us every November 1, and introduces the idea of the ever so popular diets: vegetarianism and veganism. Maybe the possibility of seeing what the hub-bub is all about intrigues you, and if that’s the case, then this is the day for you. See the map above for a route around the Lower Raritan River with stops all along it at plant based restaurants or others that feature plant based options.

So, what can these diets offer you? A slew of things, actually. One of the big factors to go plant-based is due to health. According to Harvard Medical School, a vegetarian diet offers some wonderful benefits and takes out some of the harmful negatives, “… As a result, [making them] likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases.”

Besides personal gains, you’d also be doing the Earth (and our Lower Raritan Watershed) a huge solid. A big sign of inefficiency within agriculture lies within the raising of animals for their meat. About 70% of grain and cereals grown in the U.S. are fed to farm animals. Keeping that in mind, 16lbs of grain goes into producing 1lb of meat. And since demand for meat is so high, these farms continue to expand, knocking down natural ecosystems for the production of corn. Instead of using all those resources and high amounts of energy to produce that little amount of consumable meat, it could instead be used for humans.

So, come out to the Lower Raritan River during World Vegan Day, check out what local vegan and vegetarian restaurants have on offer, and learn why the grass is greener on the other side!

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.

Raritan River Pathogen Results for 9.24.2020

Article and photos (except as noted) by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

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 September 24, 2020. We are quite surprised by how bad these results are, given that we haven’t had rain for over a week.

Please note: results are preliminary and pending quality control.

Field Notes for 9.24.2020

Hell Money

“Hell Bank Note” found in the water at Boyd Park

We aren’t quite sure what to make of this $10,000 “Hell Bank Note” found floating on the Raritan at Boyd Park. However, we DO know a great way to spend a Saturday and help the earth at the same time! Help us get trash like this out of the water during our Saturday September 26 socially-distanced clean-up of Seeley’s Run in Franklin Township! Due to COVID we are asking that folx register in advance.

Birding!

It is always a treat to go out sampling with a birder. LRWP volunteer Roger Dreyling knows his birds, and has a great eye for capturing them on film. We identified several types of gulls yesterday, saw osprey, mallards, cormorants, and caught up with a loon in South Amboy! It was fun to hear its haunting cry.

Common Loon – Photo: Roger Dreyling
Double Crested Cormorant – Photo: Roger Dreyling

Pathogens Samples transfer

No doubt stranger items have been exchanged in the IKEA parking lot in Elizabeth, NJ. Still, passersby were curious as we scooped ice and sample bottles from one cooler to another not far from a sea of pressed plywood and Swedish meatballs. Many thanks to IEC’s Jessica Bonamusa for saving us a trip to her lab Brooklyn.

Water quality samples transfer to our IEC lab liaison.

Coloring Time

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Self portrait of a paddler navigating a sea of goldenrod during the late September color blast. Much care was taken to not get yellow on the black canoe.

The rise of Venus in the early morning eastern sky is the celestial harbinger of a pre-autumnal dawn. As if a conductor raising her baton to stir the first musical strands of an orchestral performance, Venus instead, transforms sound into symphony of color.

As the dark sky lightens, a fluorescent orange orb slowly struggles skyward appearing to have escaped from the earth’s fiery core.

Once free of the earth’s grasp, the sun’s blaze orange begins to fade, dissolving in the atmosphere, melting into a wild spectrum of ever-changing pastel tints. Tints that concentrate in intensity as they fall to earth and color the late summer greenery with splashes of vibrant golds, yellow and purple variants.

The summer green mantle, which covered open fields for the past three months, was worn as a uniform of sort to make differentiation among grassland vegetation a difficult task.

With the imperceptible fading hot breath of late summer, vast expanses of vibrant yellow appear, as goldenrod reveals itself as an actor would at the end of a play. Depending on the species, goldenrod’s display of brilliant yellow may vary even further with soil conditions. NJ.GOV/pinelands lists six species of goldenrod, a feast for late season migrating pollinators.

Splashes of vibrant purple fresh from dawn’s display of pastels, stand in brilliant contrast to appear as delicate embroidery in the expansive blanket of golden yellow and green. Purple loosestrife, an invasive non-native plant, has established itself along the river and moist, overgrown pasturelands. Though loosestrife blooms from June to September, its presence in late-summer, is for some reason, more spectacular, perhaps its vibrant color is now more intense.

Artists use light and composition to direct attention to the main subject and then allow that focus to diffuse and absorb all the fine details so critical to support the entire work of art.

In nature we see the same strategy, which speaks more to revealing the innate human thought process than it does to suggest nature exhibiting intent. That thought aside, the beauty that surrounds us, is in itself, best felt emotionally rather than seasoned with logic and rationality.

The broad bold colored brush strokes painted across wide swatches of meadow and grassland are sufficient to capture attention and compel a search for the finer details.

Standing tall above the rest always garners a first glance among the crowd. Common mullein is another late season bloomer, pale green, tending to gray, with a long thick wooly stalk upon which a whorl of yellow flowers appears. The plant has many medicinal and practical uses. It seems the color yellow, dripped from the rising sun, is natures favorite, after green and blue. Ask which came first, insects evolving to adapt to yellow flowers or yellow flowers dominating because of insect choice.

Another example of fine art is Joe-Pye-Weed. Again, a tall plant which bears a large globe of tiny flowers tinted light pink to purple. The color taken directly from the evolving pastels displayed at dawn, even freezing the subtle movement seen as colors travel their spectral paths allowed by visible light. That long moment of change, as if time was captured in the still portrait of a Joe-Pye-Weed floret.

Ironweed is another common wildflower blooming in late summer. Small patches of this tall plant bear fluorescent dark purple flowers. The color stands in contrast to the earth tones of brown, tan, gray and green that dominate nature’s palette.

Cardinal flower, a native wildflower, blooms in moist areas in late August to September. Appropriately named, this plant bears several dark red cone shaped flowers that glow with such intensity and depth comparable to fresh drops of blood. The intense red coming directly from the glowing orb seen at dawn as it breaks free of the earth’s molten core.

Late summer and early fall are marked by changes in color. Colors previewed and mixed in the sky from effluent of the rising sun. As these colors emerge on the landscape, they mark the passage of time as effectively as a modern day calendar.

Instead of relying on standard numeric measures of time, we might say, the red is on the cardinal flower and the purple is on the iron weed and in doing so we color time.

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.

Civic Science Precipitation Monitoring with CoCoRaHS, and a volunteer opportunity with LRWP!

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), a national network of volunteer rain monitors, recently added some important new spatial and historical rainfall data mapping products by watershed at the HUC 10 level.

To access this data, go to https://www.cocorahs.org/Maps/

You can then click on the Watershed Maps, enter you address or zip code, and access the subwatersheds in the vicinity of your address. You can then click on your target watershed, and that watershed will come up with its area in acres and square miles, and a button for precipitation reports.

CoCoRaHs Watershed Map for Watershed Management Area 9

Click on the precipitation reports, and a “Configure Precipitation Report” box pops up. Click the drop down arrow, and you can choose between Daily Precipitation and Monthly Precipitation.

Daily Precipitation provides the Average Precipitation in inches for the pervious 24 hours for that subwatershed, along with the number of CoCoRaHS stations in the subwatershed. This data can be very useful for monitoring large rain events that can impact stream flows, flooding, and drought.

Choose Monthly Precipitation, and you can then choose monthly accumulated precipitation in inches for any month going back to 1998, and get the number of stations for that month.

Help track climate trends for the LRWP!

Can you help the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership better understand climate trends? Let us know! We need a volunteer to extract historical rainfall data by month from CoCoRaHs data source and develop a monthly rainfall baseline so we can compare present and future monthly rainfall for climate trends analysis. We intend to eventually triangulate these data with our pathogens monitoring data.

Join CoCoRaHS!

The LRWP supports the CoCoRaHS ongoing campaign to recruit volunteers. Anyone can volunteer to report rainfall by signing up here and then purchasing and installing a $35 required rain gage.

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