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.
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.
Article by Caleigh Holland, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course
It is no secret that pollution is a problem in our oceans; we know that plastic bags and straws are killing sea creatures. However, the public is not always as aware of the pollution in local rivers and the consequential damage it is costing us and the environment. The Raritan River is unfortunately full of garbage from littering and industrial facilities, as well as polluted by raw sewage. How can you as the public help an issue that impacts your drinking water, local wildlife, transportation, and recreational activities? An opportunity to aid in the health of our environment is to participate in a river clean up. This weekend activity or weekday afternoon would allow you to not only enjoy the outdoors, but bond with a group of people that share the same goal.
Who can join in a clean up?
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) is happy to have volunteers join them for service; you can connect with them through their website to find clean-up opportunities, or to share ideas for clean-up locations. Participating in a stream or river clean-up is a great community-building activity for groups of all sorts. Faith-based groups, Rutgers environmental and outdoor clubs, and local charities can sign up to help out. In addition to the LRWP, several other local organizations regularly host clean ups, and organizations like American Rivers help groups schedule river clean ups and offer advice to the public on how to create a successful event.
What are the safety precautions for the river clean ups?
For most clean-ups protective gloves are provided.
Participants should ensure that they have proper footwear, clothing for the season, bug repellent, hydration, and snacks.
The LRWP asks that volunteers leave glass, weapons, and drug paraphernalia where it is, and that they let a clean-up coordinator know about those and any other dangerous items.
Individuals under 18 need a parent’s signature to participate in formal clean-ups, and for every five youths under 12 one adult must be present.
Why we should clean up the river
There is a considerable amount of pollution in the Raritan River from a number of different sources. One kind of pollution of concern is microplastics, which are any pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters. Microplastics are either created from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic, are by-products of plastics production, or are used in products such as toothpaste or cosmetics. Researchers from Rutgers University have shown a high concentration of microplastics in local waters water.
Any plastic that is allowed to wash into the river such as through storm drains can easily end up in the water and over time will wear down and distribute itself throughout the river’s waters. If freshwater animals eat the microplastics found in the water and then humans eat the aquatic animals, there is growing research that suggests that the ingestion of plastics can lead to changes in our chromosomes which could lead to obesity, cancer, and infertility. There are potentially several health consequences to the public if we don’t clean up the Raritan River.
of a difference can you make cleaning up the river?
Although it may seem like a lost cause when you hear about the amount of pollution already in the river, a little goes a long way in terms of clearing the water of garbage. Over 20 years, the town of Manchester, NJ organized over 116 clean-up events with more than 1000 volunteers. In less than two decades they managed to collect 2,394 bags of trash which amounts to $78,000 in volunteer donation time. Organizations like the LRWP are trying to do the same along the banks of the old Raritan.
How can we
clean up when there is no event scheduled?
A clean river starts with your daily routine. Recycle rather than throw out your garbage. Recycle your plastic shopping bags at local grocery stores. When you walk or jog outside, pick up garbage as you go. “Plogging” – picking up litter while jogging – is a way for you not only to promote a healthy lifestyle for yourself, but for the environment too. You don’t need to jump right in and get your feet wet—you can help the river by thinking more consciously about your own behaviors at home, at work, and in your community.
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, 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.
Article and photos by Francisco Gomez, Founder and Director of Raíces Cultural Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural roots through the arts, history and ecology.
With many thanks to Francisco and the Raíces Cultural Center for joining us for our February 25 clean-up of the Raritan River floodplain in Piscataway.
We headed out for Johnson Park last Saturday for a river clean-up of the Raritan. There were about a dozen people gathered as we were given our trash bags and long reach garbage grabbers to tackle the debris.
I often take my daily walks along the river, especially during the Spring and Summer. There’s always been something special about the water, as polluted as it is, wildlife and the people that are out doing what I do to get my daily dose of Nature.
Having walked the river ever since I was a kid, and let me say many moons have passed since then; I have witnessed the gradual environmental destruction of this once great water way.
As a child growing up in Perth Amboy, I would hangout on Mechanic St. with my friends. We would walk to the waterfront and dive off of a dock at the end of Buckingham Ave., adjacent to the Chevron Oil Refinery. At the end of the dock there was moored an old World War 2 mine sweeper that we would explore when we weren’t swimming in the entrance to the Arthur Kill and across the Raritan Bay to Staten Island. That was the early 1960’s and the water was still good enough to swim. At some point in 1961 we noticed oil spots on our skin when we came out of the water, and we reeked of petroleum. Needless to say, we stopped swimming in the bay and that wonderful part of our childhood came to an unwanted end. It would be many years later, when I became involved in the environmental movement, that I fully understood the negative impact of what corporate greed and indifference to Mother Nature had done and is still doing.
As our crew scoped out the coast line for garbage, a sudden sadness and anger overwhelmed me at the same time. It brought to mind a commercial clip made back in the early 1970’s of a First Nation’s man who rows down a river in a canoe, and as he gets into the greater water way he begins to see the incredible amount of garbage thrown into the river by humans. He also sees all the petrochemical companies spewing toxic waste from their chimney stacks and the pipelines from their factories that drain into the bay. When he gets out of his canoe by a highway, one of the cars passing by tosses a bag of fast food that lands at his feet. As he turns towards the camera you see a tear roll down his cheek. The actor’s name is Iron Eyes Cody, but what he was seeing was no act!
As we continued our sweep of the coastline I understood fully what our disregard and disrespect for Nature has produced. Just attempting to clean-up the vast amount of debris in one minuscule patch of river line was daunting and seemed totally futile; I believe this is what made me so angry. I know that I’m not without blame, for I have also contributed to this catastrophe in one way or another, directly or through the forced machinations of the corporate Matrix.
Enter the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. This is the organization who coordinated the river clean-up and does the remarkable work of attempting to protect the Raritan River. These guys do everything from stewardship, civic science and environmental monitoring, habitat and ecological health, Eco-art and, of course, lots of clean-ups.
Two hours later we had collected a number of bags filled with trash, a bicycle, one or two huge plastic tubes and a very heavy corroded metal lid. The truth is we barely made a dent in our clean-up.
Volunteering to be part of these clean-ups can be quite disheartening and almost pointless because of the amount of new trash that is dispensed onto the landscape and into the river each day. However, one should not be deterred from joining in to do this most important work. There is some recompense in watching a jogger or cyclist pass by, smile and thank us for collecting what seems to be a very small amount of garbage. There is satisfaction in cleaning up other people’s carbon footprints, even if you may not believe so.
So if you’re so inclined and want to do your part to make the environment a little more ecologically balanced, then come out on one of the workdays and get a little dirty so we can make the Raritan River a little cleaner again – you won’t regret it!