Tag: Heather Fenyk

Ambrose Brook Stream Assessment: One-Year Chronology

Margo Persin, Rutgers Environmental Steward

Editor’s Note: In 2018 Margo Persin joined the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for training in the important environmental issues affecting New Jersey. Program participants are trained to tackle local environmental problems through a service project. As part of Margo’s service project she chose to conduct assessments of a local stream for a year, and to provide the data she gathered to the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Margo keeps a journal of her experiences, excerpts of which are included in the LRWP’s “Voices of the Watershed” column.

Location: Willow Dr.  Middlesex, NJ  08846, USA

            Latitude: 40:566552

            Longitude: -74.510890

Prologue

In working on my project, I plan to provide a detailed chronological report of the specified site over a period of one complete annual cycle.  Secondly, I will take photos to document any changes – or lack of changes – with the passing of seasons, and to bear witness to human intervention, whether it be positive or negative.  For example, has any work been done previously to prevent erosion of the stream?  Or, what are the effects of littering/ dumping in regard to stream health?  I am looking forward to being an active observer of the ‘big picture’ as well as the minutiae of this specific site.  Because I am a life-long gardener, it is patently obvious that my garden ‘talks to me’ – I learned that from my Mom.  One needs to learn to observe and interpret the sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious messages that nature sends out.  For example, a plant may not be partial to a planting site and thus sends out runners or shoots to a more appropriate placement and then a new plant pops up in the more favored location.  Needs more sun?  Wants higher or direr ground?  Example:  day lilies don’t like to be in the vicinity of lilies-of-the-valley and they also don’t tolerate any mulch…. With this in mind, I want to to enter into that active ‘observing/listening’ relationship with a stream habitat, which will be slightly different from one with a suburban garden.  But I suspect that some (many?) of the same or similar skills will apply.

And third, I want to create a written narrative of my relationship with the site, which I hope will be a meditation on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a more intimate connection with the wild part of nature that surrounds us.  How can we become more active and aware observers and listeners, in order to be able to honor the wildness in nature?  And how can we utilize that in order to attain a closer, more authentic and honorable connection between earth and human, to acknowledge that wild part that connects rather than separates us?

A bit of a delayed and bumpy start ….

Given that I wanted to do a stream assessment, the first order of business was to get some training in that field of endeavor.  To that end, I participated in a Visual Habitat Assessment training program offered by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership that took place on 21 May 2017 at the Lawrence Brook. It was led by Heather Fenyk and those of us in the group learned how to assess stream quality utilizing a very helpful and specific set of guidelines that include water conditions, stream measurements, and stream characteristics.  In addition, we also were introduced to ‘high gradient monitoring’ that has as its focus such parameters as embeddedness, sediment deposition, channel flow, velocity/depth, channel alteration, bank stability, etc.  My mind’s eye was awakened to the plethora of detail that could so easily be passed over, if one’s full attention to detail is not called into service.  It was a wonderful learning opportunity and I was so glad that the opportunity had been afforded to me to learn in this very supportive and educational context.  It is my opinion that we learned from the group leader, from the assistants and from nature itself.  It was an experience that has stayed with me – I was so impressed by how the gifts of science and observation we who inhabit that green planet that we call home can both inhabit and commune with earth, water, sun, and sky.  We need to be silent, to look, to listen, to be, and to be at ease so that the earth’s signals can fill us with wonder.

My next step was to find out exactly where the stream was located, obviously.  But this task proved much, much harder to achieve than would be expected.  After contacting several people over a period of several months, the site coordinates were eventually sent to me by Mr. Robert Hughes, the Watershed Ambassador WMA 9, on 30 October 2017.  Progress!

The third step was to do a reconnoitering mission to the site – more about that in a moment – and finally, to arrange for an ‘official first visit’, in the company of another environmental enthusiast, so that the first official set of measurements could be taken.  It was strongly suggested by both Michele Bakacs and Heather, with an eye toward safety, to develop and utilize a team approach for site visits.  Two people had been recommended to me who might be willing to visit the site with me; I contacted these two people and because of timing, only one was able to co-ordinate with me for the site visit.  That first official visit took place on 2 December 2017, with Carolyn F as the second member of the site visit team.  So begins the project – it will continue over the course of an entire year, from December to December, so as to be able to capture the feel of the site and to develop a relationship with nature’s rhythm at this particular site.  Wish me luck.

Preliminary visit

Prior to the official start of my project, I wanted to locate the site on my own and to reconnoiter it from a very practical perspective: aside from the spatial co-ordinates, what was the easiest, safest, most direct route to the site?  Is parking available?  How safe/reachable is the site from a public safety perspective?  Is the site easily accessible via vehicle?  On foot? Are there walking trails? Are they cleared / easy to negotiate?  Are there other accommodations?  Is the site under the care of any public entity?  Are there man-made structures in the vicinity?  If so, what purpose do they serve?

25 November 2017

My first unaccompanied visit to the site was purely for reconnoitering.  The part that I visited is easily accessible from Rte. 28 in Middlesex and there is a small parking lot available that fronts the Ambrose Brook.  (It turns out that I was not quite at the coordinate site, but within walking distance of the GPS coordinates.  More about that later.) While seated in my vehicle I waited for a few moments to get my bearings:  there are paths that lead in both directions, one that parallels Rte. 28 and another that cuts back into a residential area.  Part of the path is paved, then gives way to some well-trodden dirt walkways that follows the contours of the stream as it meanders its way through the suburban area.  There is a small park with a pavilion, a suspended observation / fishing deck that is handicapped accessible, and a portable potty adjacent to the parking lot.  Farther down, barely visible from the road, is a lovely foot bridge that crosses the stream from the small park area to a rather dense suburban area.  The bridge is made of metal, quite sturdy, and provides a beautiful vista in both directions of the stream.

Exiting my vehicle, I walked farther down along the part parallel to Rte. 28 and observed a small but lovely waterfall that allows for the swelling of the brook during times of heavy rain.  There are two drains, presumably for rain run-off, that deposit water into the brook.  One is a cement structure with a grate that protrudes from under Rte. 28 and the other is a slightly battered metal pipe that extends from underground over the brook.  During that first visit, neither drain had any appreciable amount of water to contribute to the brook water capacity.  In regard to vegetation, being that it is winter, the ground is frozen hard but the water from the brook is not frozen.  The grass is brown and dormant, fallen leaves are all around and the trees are bare, sleeping as they should on this cold winter day.  Few birds made their presence known and the only sounds were those of the quietly gurgling brook versus the distant hum of the traffic less than one block away.

A lovely memory and observation came to me from the past.  One of my acquaintances from years past is a lovely Native American woman; if I remember correctly, she is of the Cree tribe.  In speaking of the turning of the seasons, she noted that within Native American culture, in her tribe in particular, winter is of great value because it gives members of the tribe both the time and the space for storytelling, for being with family and tribe members in close proximity, for listening and learning, for observing, for working on and teaching traditional crafts to the younger generation, for making music and singing, for the passing down of valued and cherished information such as family and tribal history, tribal traditions, myths and legends, for sharing the lessons that are needed to pass from one stage of life to another, for maintaining a way of life.  She also emphasized that winter is so important to nature because it is a time of somnolent rest, a time to retreat inward, to focus on the completion of one cycle before embarking on the renewal of spring and the start of yet another growing season.  As I wandered the bank of the Ambrose Brook on that cold and quiet winter day, I pondered the lessons that await me in this project.  The air was cold and I felt a quiet sense of contentment and anticipation, a turning inward that my friend had indicated that is one of the gifts of the winter season.  What other gifts would nature bestow upon me if I could just be still, wait, observe, and listen?

2 December 2017

Ready, set, go!  This was a cold and brisk, partly cloudy, not unpleasant day for the very first ‘official visit’ to the site; I was accompanied by Carolyn F, a valued member of the assessment workshop whose name had been suggested to me by Heather of the LRWP.  We communicated several times via e-mail and then met on this Saturday in order to put into practice the skills and formula that we had learned back in May.  It turns out that this environmental buddy had a bit more on the ball than I did, for she pointed out to me that the actual site of the GPS coordinates was a bit farther removed from the one that I had scoped out on Rte. 28.  After texting back and forth, we finally met at the appointed date and time at the GPS location; both of us came prepared, she more than I.  Her waders served her very well, given that we did a practice run of habitat assessment using the study sheets provided at the workshop.   We did a quick reconnaissance of the site via the latitude and longitude numbers, which is located in a residential neighborhood a bit farther removed – about two blocks or so – from Rte. 28, close to a modest children’s playground.  We walked the site, she took some photos, then we decided to head for the other section closer to Rte. 28 in order to try our hand at working through the assessment sheets as a practice run.

Using all the equipment and measurement tools provided by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership – metal ruler, flag markers, floating rubber duck, thermostat – we happily set to work on the task, starting with the ‘general sheet’, then working through ‘water conditions’, and ‘stream measurements’ (width, depth, velocity).  Sounds fairly straightforward, right?  Well, what slowed the process at this point was that the measurements are required to be taken using the metric system and not the standard American system of inches, feet and yards, including centigrade versus Fahrenheit readings.  Arghhhhhhhh……  Needless to say, the conversions slowed us down just a bit but Carolyn’s phone (with calculator) turned out to be a most vital component of our visit.  We did some of the calculations on the spot and then later at home I checked our numbers and completed the conversions. Our tasks included wading into the stream – her waders and my duck boots came in very handy considering the distance and depth – and I appreciated very much having a buddy to ‘compare notes’ to take all the measurements and come to a shared decision in regard to stream characteristics and visual assessment of gradient factors such as epifaunal substrate, embeddedness, sediment deposition, channel flow, frequency of ripples, and the rest of the categories.  We measured out our required distance – 50 meters in either direction – placed the flag markers, then got to work.

The task was engrossing and the suburban context faded into the background as we assiduously worked our way through the assessment.  Even though the natural habitat was in full winter mode, I became aware of the subtle shadings of sound, color, texture, movement and stillness.  For example, the floating rubber duck signaled the literal ebb and flow of the stream with its bobbing and stalling as it responded to the currents and cross-currents of the slowly moving water.  At times it got caught in a pocket of calm, and then with a bit of encouragement from us, rejoined the water’s energy to make it to the final point of our measures.  In observing the little rubber duck’s movement, its vibrant yellow color so visible to our human eyes, it became for me a bit of a metaphor, in that it was floating on the surface of the all-encompassing stream, seemingly unaware of its insignificance vis-à-vis the natural world.  We humans ‘float on the surface’, unaware of our insignificance over time in regard to the pulsing of the planet beneath our feet.  Alas, our interventions often are negative, considering how overpopulation, pollution, and other forms of contamination interfere with this pulsing, as our lovely green planet hurls itself through the universe, the planet itself insignificant in the greatness of space.

Carolyn and I utilized our time well:  we were at the site for approximately two and a half hours, taking measurements, comparing our individual observations, appreciating the subtleties of the winter landscape.  And just one more observation.  We both noted that the area was relatively clean of human garbage, trash, and other forms of detritus, which was a pleasant surprise for me.  Given the site’s proximity to the road, the parking lot and rather dense housing, I honestly had expected there to be a stronger and more visible human footprint in the form of various forms of waste – trash, paper, cans, bottles, old tires.  But the area is fairly clean!  At the end, my environmental buddy suggested that a visit for the purpose of kayaking might be a doable undertaking at some future time in the warmer months, in order to explore the area upstream of the given site.  That idea will be placed on the list of possibilities for another day.  With that we each went our separate ways.  It was good to be heading home, with the heat flowing in the cab of my vehicle.

30 December 2017

         “The best laid plans….”  Now that this project had finally launched, I was anxious to establish a steady rhythm in regard to my site visits.   And in addition, there was contact with another environmental enthusiast, who signaled a sincere willingness to serve as my exploration buddy.  Susan E. had volunteered to accompany me on further adventures; she is perfectly qualified and suited for the task, having developed an environmental project of her own, which in truth, was the inspiration for my own.  We decided that an end-of-the-year visit would be an appropriate means to both close out one cycle and look forward to another, Janus like, in anticipation of a yet another change of season.  Alas, the plans fell through because I came down with a virus and was out of commission for the good part of a month.  So… on to the New Year and the start of another cycle.

21 January 2018

In the company of Susan E., we headed to the site on a cold, clear and sunny day.  We parked at the lot in close proximity to the brook, then on foot wandered back to where the GPS coordinates are located.  Our meandering took us farther upstream than I had previously visited. The footing was firm in places and quite soggy in others, and we noted the dormant vegetation, including a healthy crop of brambles that very effectively caught at our clothing.  Ugh.  We noted the places where the waters had left a mark on the land within an overflow plain, evident in the swirling, matted down grass and the markings on the shrubs and trees that line the banks of the brook.  Susan pointed out several places of evident erosion in the banks of the opposite side of the stream and noted the layering of sediment – different colors and textures — that gave evidence of the changing composition of the earth’s layering.   Many are the varieties of trees that line the banks, whose root systems benefit from the generous supply of water. [ Note to self:  try to identify the flora on the banks of the stream.  Are these specimens native to the area? Or have they been added to enhance the landscape from a human perspective?]

We made our way to the lovely footbridge, a steel structure that provides an excellent vantage point to look in both directions, both up and down stream.  Some fauna were present, a few ducks and geese on the surface of the water as well as a some fish that lazily lolled in the current below.  I was struck by the sense of solitude and peace of this beautiful place, in spite of the proximity of suburban life so close.  We continued on the bridge to the other side, then made our way carefully along the opposite bank.  The footing became quite muddy and unstable but the view from this far side of the stream offered the opportunity to reclaim a perspective based on a more unenhanced version of the site, one not as manufactured by human intervention.  Nice!

Our visit included stopping for Susan to take some photos, then we crossed back to the parking lot and took our leave.

21 March 2018

         As predicted by the US Weather Service, it has been a cold and long winter, followed by a cold and wet spring.  I stopped by the Ambrose Brook today in the hopes of spying a bit of change, whether in the early budding of trees, the minute sprouting of grass, a return of more birds with their flutters and chirping.  Any harbingers of spring?  No such luck, not yet.   However, this visit provided me with another opportunity.   It was a cold and mostly cloudy day that served for me to stand in quiet solitary contemplation on the observation platform.  Not to be deterred, I chose to focus attention on a small island that is at the center of the brook and attempt to take note of the visual minutiae that delineate the island’s subtle shadings.  The colors are primarily brown and green, with varying shades of tan and grey.  Black lurks in the shadows and slivers of flickering sunlight shoot arrow-like through the trees, shrubs and brambles.  Wind ruffles some fallen leaves that cling to roots and branches, decaying evidence of a season long past.   Some ducks paddle quietly along the perimeter of the island and barely take note of my presence.  Perhaps they have become inured to human presence in general or through experience have learned that the imposing, vertical mammals do not have the habit of crossing the water barrier between solid ground and the little island to their backs.  They occasionally glanced in my direction and then continued on with their creek cruising.  Not a bad life, given that their feathers and a layer of winter fat provide ample protection from the water and wind.

My observation also took in the water level, higher than in previous visits, presumably from early spring melting and run-off.  The brook water was a muddy brown and lapped at the edges of the island; there was some bank vegetation that was partially submerged and partially above water level.  As with the previous visit a bit upstream, trees on the island threw off roots, some as thick as the fists of a prize fighter, to sustain their height.  There was no indication as yet of buds forming on the trees, none that I could see from the distance, standing on the observation platform.  The quiet of this visit on this end-of-winter day comforted me, offered a soothing message of tranquility, endurance and the abiding wisdom of nature’s continuing cycles.

10 May 2018

         Spring has finally arrived at Ambrose Brook, there are many indications that the season has turned in alignment with the earth’s rotation and tilt.  I visited the site at around 10:30 am and stayed for about one and a half hours.  My time was spent in observation and contemplation of the natural environment as well as the effects of human intervention.  For starters, the leaves are starting to appear on all the trees – finally – the grass is starting to appear less stubbly.  As a result of the burgeoning leaf cover, the ability to see across the brook will be quickly diminishing in the coming weeks, I surmise.  The water in the creek seems to be moving at a bit faster pace, probably because of the amount of rain that has been falling in the last week or so.  I walked for approximately a quarter of a mile in each direction from the parking area off of Rt. 28 in order to determine what changes, if any, had occurred because of the winter weather.

What I observed in the area closest to the segment identification by latitude and longitude was some washing up and / or tree fall from winter storms.  Some of the fallen timber had been ‘cut down to size’ by someone wielding a chain saw, most probably a worker from the local DPW; the logs and branches were piled up on the left bank to a height of approximately three and one half feet.  This pile of wood and leafy debris may prove enticing to some small furry creatures in the future for a lovely, cool, and protected nesting or burrowing place, if it is left as it is. I was able to get around the pile and continue my observation but the brambles have started to fill in and the slog got a bit more difficult.  It was evident from where I was walking on the bank that there is a type of flood plain for the creek; the flow exceeds the bank where the creek takes a meandering turn toward the left.  The footing became quite muddy and the brown grass left over from the fall manifested the effects of flowing water – lovely swirls and whorls that give the impression of a lazy aquatic ballet performed upon the welcoming earth with the literal ebb and flow of the creek’s capricious visits during the winter months.

The brook’s water has now receded from the flood plain and is within a channel that has definitive banks, although the height of the banks varies at different points on my observation path.  Taking a turn in the opposite direction from the parking area, parallel to Rt. 28, the view is idyllic – a meandering brook with a few surface ripples that give off a low and pleasing hum, an overhang of greening trees, grass appealing to the eye and calling for the tread of bare feet, a small waterfall, and some waterfowl – Canadian geese and a few mallard ducks who were more than willing to share the space and beauty of the moment, either the ones who were on the banks of the creek or those who were enjoying the cool embrace of the creek’s sultry flow.    In spite of the minimal traffic noise emanating from Rt. 28, this was place and moment that could be described as a feast for the senses.   The gift of sight  that captures the nuance of color and form, that of hearing,  the sound of birds and brook, that  of touch, that encourages physical discourse with so many material forms as well as the ephemeral contact of wind on my face.  And the olfactory experience is not to be denied, in the sweet reminder of flowering trees and bushes that contrasts with the musty and not-to-be-denied odor of the languorous creek within its uneven banks.  And the experience of taste?  I was not expecting to add that to the list, but a bug unceremoniously entered my mouth and with an unanticipated crunch, the bitterness of the insect’s demise forged its way into my consciousness.  Ugh.  So much for poetic contemplation of this idyllic scenario.

In regard to human intervention, in addition to the chainsawed fallen timber, there was evidence of tidying up in the recently mowed grass along the banks, mulch piled and spread along the public walkways, and a cheerful DPW worker raking some leaves.  There was some human traffic; two men were fishing off of two different piers with hand rails – handy for resting their fishing poles –, and a young mother ambled briskly with her toddler son who had no interest in staying in the stroller but rather preferred to trot along beside her.

The visit was enjoyable, refreshing, renewing.  Some ideas for further exploration are to identify the trees and shrubs in the area, to focus on bird species that are present, and perform another official habitat assessment of the creek utilizing the format provided by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.  And the possibility of a kayaking expedition offers yet another challenge.  Onward!

About Margo Persin: I am a retired Rutgers professor who needed a project. I took the Environmental Stewards course offered through Rutgers and was inspired to get back in touch with this beautiful green planet that we all call home via a focus on water. I grew up on the Lake Erie shore, the northeast Ohio coastline, so the pull to return to a partnership with water was a logical and autobiographical one for me. Also, during my years as a professor, I spent several years in Mexico and was able to observe firsthand the devastating and catastrophic effects of no access to potable water. Water means healthy communities, healthy crops, healthy kids. Water is life.

Slow down on the salt!

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.

Recap of Nov 17 Resilience Workshop with NOAA

On November 17 the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership joined with NOAA to co-host a day-long workshop: “Introducing Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience”. This workshop, designed for planners, engineers and municipal leaders not yet familiar with GI for coastal resilience, brought in more than 50 participants from the Lower Raritan Watershed and throughout New Jersey. It was a great event!
Workshop participants brainstorm ways to implement Green Infrastructure in their communities
Many thanks to everyone who joined us for the workshop, with special thanks to our speakers: Lauren Long (NOAA), Toby Horton & Jeremiah Bergstrom (Rutgers Cooperative Extension), John Trucsinski (The Nature Conservancy), Linda Weber (Sustainable Jersey) and Carter Craft (Consulate General of the Netherlands).
Tobiah Horton (Rutgers Extension), Lauren Long (NOAA) and Carter Craft (Consulate General of the Netherlands) discuss local resilience responses
The workshop was timed to coincide with the 5th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. We saw this anniversary as an opportune moment to reflect on successes in implementing GI thus far, as well as to frame challenges, solutions and opportunities for future GI interventions. Of course this work is just beginning. The LRWP, NOAA and Rutgers Marine Sciences are discussing how to continue the conversation in 2018. Stay tuned! For now, please see conference handouts, presentations, and additional resources below.
Participant Agenda:
Final_GIParticipantAgenda_LRWP_NOAA_Workshop_11.17.2017 (2)
Conference Handouts:
Ecosystem Services Handout
Green Infrastructure Practices Handout
Green_Infrastructure_FundingOpportunities_11-17-17
Green Infrastructure Barriers Handout
GI Hand Out For Local Elected Officials
Overcoming Barriers to Green Infrastructure Handout
risk-communication-best-practices
Presentations:
LRWP_Resilience_Workshop_SpeakerBios_11-17-17
Lauren Long (NOAA): Intro_to_GI_NOAA_LRWP_11-17-17
Carter Craft (Consulate General of Netherlands): CommunitySiteScale_CCraft_11-17-17
Toby Horton (Rutgers University Cooperative Extension): CommunitySiteScale_THorton_11-17-17_III
Jeremiah Bergstrom (Rutgers University Cooperative Extension): LandscapeScale_JBergstrom_11-17-17
Linda Weber (Sustainable Jersey): LocalPlanningGI_LWeber_11-17-17
John Truscinski (The Nature Conservancy): ShorelineProtection_JTruscinski_11-17-17_reducedII
Notes:
SayrevilleGITraining Notes_Flipcharts
Additional Resources:
Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: An Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances – http://seagrant.wisc.edu/home/Portals/0/Files/Coastal%20Communities/Green_Infrastructure/GIAT.pdf
NOAA case study associated with Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances as they related to Green Infrastructure: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/training/port-washington.html
NOAA’s Natural Infrastructure Topic Page also has links to many of their Natural Infrastructure resources: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/topics/green-infrastructure.html

Gubernatorial Elections and NJ Ballot Question 2

New Jersey’s Gubernatorial Elections are just a week away! Here are a few things to think about as you prepare to go to the polls.

I. New Jersey Ballot Question #2

In addition to voting for our next Governor, New Jersey voters will be asked to vote on Public Question #2, the  “Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment” question.

The LRWP encourages New Jersey voters to vote YES on this important ballot question. A YES vote would require that Natural Resource Damages funds be used ONLY for their intended purpose of restoration and environmental cleanup. In years prior, more than 80% of supposedly dedicated environmental clean-up funds were instead appropriated for the state’s general operating budget.

According to the ballot question’s interpretive statement, “This amendment would dedicate moneys collected by the State relating to natural resource damages through settlements or awards for legal claims based on environmental contamination. These moneys would be dedicated to repair, replace, or restore damaged natural resources, or to preserve the State’s natural resources. The moneys would be spent in an area as close as possible to the geographical area in which the damage occurred. The moneys could also be used to pay for the State’s legal or other costs in pursuing the claims. Currently, these moneys may be used for any State purpose.”

For more information on Public Question 2 and its history and impacts, see https://ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_Public_Question_2,_Revenue_from_Environmental_Damage_Lawsuits_Dedicated_to_Environmental_Projects_Amendment_(2017)

II. Questions for New Jersey Gubernatorial Candidates

Every Tuesday for the last 12 weeks the LRWP has reached out (via twitter) to the New Jersey Democratic, Republican, Green and Libertarian Gubernatorial candidates, posing questions specific to how they plan improve the health of our watershed and New Jersey environment. Only one candidate responded to any of our questions, but these are questions folks concerned about water quality and environmental health should ask of anyone running for public office. Here are the LRWP’s tweets, and the candidate responses:

7.25.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj what actions would you take as Gov to make NJ’s water sector more energy efficient?

8.1.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support the use of citizen science as input into climate change modeling for the state of NJ?

8.8.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support implementing a state-wise water reuse assistance program?

8.15.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj will you reinstate the 2007 flood hazard area control act rules?

8.22.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Governor how would you encourage integrated watershed management in NJ?

8.29.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Governor do you support the creation of stormwater utilities in NJ?

9.5.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support the use of citizen science as input into watershed modeling for the state of NJ?

9.12.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how will you position NJ to secure funding from USEPA revolving loan program for water & wastewater infrastructure?

9.19.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how does closing the water infrastructure investment gap play into your plans to create jobs & strengthen the economy?

9.26.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how will you help NJ’s towns secure funding from USEPA’s State Revolving Loan Program for H20 infrastructure improvements?

10.3.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Gov, how would you help smooth the path to alternative financing & funding of H20 & wastewater infrastructure in NJ?

10.10.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov @Pete4nj do you support moving the state to 100% renewables by 2035?

10.24.2017

@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov @Pete4nj what commitment will you make to clean energy (tidal, solar, wind) in NJ?

Response from @KaperDaleForGov: We would commit to a Clean Power Plan with goals of dramatic increases in clean energy production by 2025.

See you at the polls!

Ahoy There Matey!

Article and Photos by Michele Bakacs

Ahoy There Matey! Rutgers Environmental Stewards Take Their First Boat Trip on the Raritan River

On May 3rd the Middlesex class of Rutgers Environmental Stewards took the water. This afforded them a rare opportunity to see the Raritan River up close by taking a 2 hour boat trip on the new R/V Rutgers. The R/V Rutgers is a new boat operated by the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences. This 36 ft. (11 meter) aluminum landing craft is a 20 passenger vessel and supports a wide range of educational and scientific needs such as trawling, grab sampling, diving, water profiling, coring, AUV operations, etc. Faculty can reserve the vessel so students can get a first-hand look at the Raritan River ecosystem and the human impacts to the watershed.

This is part of a larger effort by the Rutgers Collaborative for Research and Education to “Bring the River to your classroom” and works to support faculty efforts in engaging students and the community in Raritan River data and science through data activities.

The Rutgers Environmental Stewards program trains volunteers on important environmental issues affecting New Jersey and helps them make a difference in their own communities. The program consists of 60 hours of classes offered around the state on topics including habitat protection, climate change, geology, soil health, alternative energy, invasive plants, environmental policy, pollinators, and much more. Stewards complete a 60 hour internship of their choosing in order to become certified. Optional field trips are included. Anyone can become an Environmental Steward regardless of background.

The Stewards met the boat in Boyd Park in New Brunswick at the Class of 1914 Boathouse and were welcomed by the boat’s captain Chip Haldeman, and first mate Nicole Waite. Joining us on our trip was Dr. Heather Fenyk, Director of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, and Dr. JeanMarie Hartman, Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture. Heather and JeanMarie provided a rich history of the Raritan and identified points of interest including shale outcrop geologic formations, the Lenape Trail connection to the River, noted flora and fauna, as well as the industrial legacy of contaminated sites, old factories, and the Edgewater Landfill.

First mate Nicole taught the Stewards how researchers monitor water quality and trained them on collecting data using YSI water monitoring probes to test for dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and salinity. We also saw 2 Bald Eagles, countless Ospreys, Cormorants, and vast marshland. The salt marshes are mostly dominated by Phragmites australis, an invasive grass known as Common Reed, but we also saw native Spartina alterniflora (Salt Marsh Cordgrass) holding its own at the fringes of the saltmarshes.

Overwhelmingly the Stewards walked away with a new appreciation of this fantastic natural resource that most of us take for granted. Most people see the Raritan River as a place to avoid, to view from afar from the Garden State Parkway or Route 1 Bridge. This experience helped the Stewards better understand the River that lies in the heart of their community, and the importance of making sure it is cleaned up and protected.

Keep an eye on the LRWP blog for information about how to register for the Rutgers Environmental Steward class of 2018!

Message from LRWP Board President – August 2017

Dear Friends of the Lower Raritan Watershed –

It may be hard to believe, but many of the shorebirds that stop through the Lower Raritan Watershed have started their southern migration. Keep a look out for sanderlings, black-bellied plovers, red knots, least sandpipers and short-billed dowitchers. Knowing that our avian friends are already on their return trip home is a good reminder to get out in the field and enjoy the summer while it’s here!

We’ll celebrate the last last bit of summer at our next meeting, an after-work picnic on World Water Monitoring Day 2017. Join us in New Brunswick’s Boyd Park on Monday September 18 from 5:30-7:30pm, and bring your own picnic or something to share. We’ll supply beverages, paper products and dessert. Friends and family members welcome! (RSVPs requested). The evening will include water quality monitoring, project updates and a Raritan River “story slam” with coLAB Arts. Do you have a special Raritan River memory? Perhaps you swam in the Raritan as a kid, or have a story from a recent clean-up? Let us know! We are looking for 4-5 people to tell their stories on Sept 18. Storyteller confirms requested by August 31.

See you in the watershed,

Heather Fenyk, President
Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership

Water Protection in Central New Jersey

Water Protectors in Standing Rock, North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline brought attention to serious flaws in the federal environmental review and approval process for crude oil and natural gas pipeline projects. The Water Protectors argued that all infrastructure projects need to include a truly comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates impacts to our natural and cultural assets.

While the federal oversights affecting Standing Rock were particularly egregious, the legacy of compromised Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) environmental review processes should be of concern to New Jersey residents as well. Oil and gas pipelines already fragment our environment as they crisscross the state. Our Lower Raritan Watershed may be impacted further by the proposed. This project includes a 3.4-mile-long, 26-inch-diameter pipeline loop in Middlesex County, and a 23.4-mile-long, 26-inch-diameter pipeline loop (called the “Raritan Bay Loop”) beginning at the Middlesex County coast and crossing New Jersey and New York State marine waters.

Because the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership has concerns that the pipeline would have irreversible impacts on our communities, watershed ecology and marine habitat, we joined dozens of other concerned citizens and environmental groups at the April 20 meeting of the Middlesex County Freeholders to encourage elected officials to take action on a project that would pose significant risks. The Home News covered our public statements, and the Middlesex County Freeholder’s response.

And on April 25, the LRWP applied for intervenor status to address the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the Williams/Transcontinental Application for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Pipeline Project (Docket Number CP17-101). Becoming an intervenor provides legal standing in the proceeding, and obligates FERC to address any comments we may submit. The LRWP included the following in our application for intervenor status:

“The Transco Pipeline proposals pose significant risks to our Central New Jersey communities. These projects will solely benefit New York City markets, yet our New Jersey communities would bear significant public health and economic risks – including increased rates of leukemia, lymphomas, respiratory disorders and other diseases – while receiving little or no benefits. We must not expose our local communities to a high-risk proposition with little to no reward.

The Transco Pipeline proposals will harm our environment and the habitat of our Raritan Watershed and Raritan Bay. The building of pipeline infrastructure and the transport of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region to New York will fragment our natural habitat, and disrupt commercial and recreational marine activities for residents and visitors. Our communities are working hard to restore landscapes destroyed by decades of industrial dumping and toxic pollution, let’s not reverse this positive trend.

The Transco Pipeline proposals are unnecessary. The Transco Pipeline would be a redundant expansion of industrial natural gas infrastructure through our Middlesex County, Somerset County and Bayshore communities. The LRWP recognizes that aging rail, bridge and other infrastructure that currently accommodates fuel transport poses risks that could lead to devastating spills in our waterways. This serious concern that can be addressed by two-pronged strategy: significant investment in the repair and maintenance of our existing infrastructure, and shifting investments to safe, clean renewable energy.

The Transco Pipeline proposals are not what our communities want. The overwhelmingly negative feedback on the project during community meetings has made it clear that this project does not have the support of community residents!”

 

Entry #1 – On New Jersey’s Environmental Values

Article by LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

Starting from a belief that enduring environmental values will help us withstand current shifts in political winds, the LRWP is initiating a series of short blog posts to reflect on the normative standards that structured the last several decades of environmental politics in New Jersey.

Throughout this series we will draw attention to those actions that relate most directly to improving the the health of our Lower Raritan Watershed. We will also highlight other successful regional approaches that we can learn from to benefit our Lower Raritan River and local streams. Topics will include state-based policy making as well as alternative approaches including court actions, collaborative politics, and “private” pathways e.g. land trusts, consumer purchasing power and business actions to achieve sustainability. We also expect to explore mitigation banking, and proposals for stormwater utilities. In short, we want to identify a compendium of actions that might be brought to bear to further protect, enhance and restore our central New Jersey environmental landscape.

In this first entry we observe that while federal legislative changes may not currently be pro-environment (see our blog post here on environmental headlines), alternative pathways to positive environmental outcomes can be as simple as holding our state Department of Environmental Protection accountable for specific promised actions to protect our rivers, streams and watersheds. For example, we can regularly check in with NJDEP to request updates on the following on-going initiatives:

-Toxics reductions initiatives

-Water Quality Standards

-Maintaining the NJDEP water quality program

-Non Point Source reduction planning

-Communication of EPA/NJDEP TMDL prioritization work

-Legislative updates

-Permits updates

-Innovations

-Grants and loans, funding opportunities and state priorities review

 

Institutionalization of all the above on-going project and program efforts at NJDEP speaks to a on-going commitment to environmental priorities for New Jersey’s future. As environmental non-profits and concerned citizens we must regularly articulate our expectations associated with these priorities and hold NJDEP accountable for meeting our expectations.

Building a Movement for Healthy Urban Waters

With support from the EPA Urban Waters Federal Partnership and from New Jersey’s Watershed Institute, from July 26-28 the LRWP joined dozens of other urban waters communities from around the United States and Puerto Rico for the 2016 Urban Waters National Training Workshop in Washington, DC.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, now in its 4th year, is an innovative union of 14 federal agencies working to provide integrated support to communities – particularly under-served and economically distressed communities – as they transform their local urban waters into treasured centerpieces for community revitalization.

Anacostia River spray park - 2016

Splash pool along DC’s Anacostia River – image, Heather Fenyk

At the Training Workshop communities told stories of how their urban rivers, streams, forests and wetlands are polluted, degraded or inaccessible. But they also highlighted examples of how they are working to measure the relationship between clean, safe and accessible waters environments and improved public health, stronger local economies and lower crime rates.

Mayors talked about making clean water a part of every conversation, and about turning to the water to revive civic life. Volunteer water quality monitors talked about the new perspectives gained by “discovering” regional landscapes through their work. And community organizers showed how process is as important as the final product in terms of sustaining the work to clean up our rivers and streams.

We also had the chance to tour areas like DC’s Anacostia River – a slow-moving diurnal water body dotted with CSOs – to be inspired by how creative landscape design integrates CSO infrastructure, safe river access and play spaces to formerly derelict sites.

As groups from around the country shared how deeper connections to our local water bodies can bring community energy that will lead to healthier urban waters, improved public health, strengthened local businesses, and new jobs it became clear that our work in the Lower Raritan Watershed contributes to an important national movement to clean up our urban rivers, streams and watersheds.

 

National Sea Monkey Day (May 16) is Reason to Celebrate New Jersey’s Vernal Ponds

By: Heather Fenyk

Part of the fun of reading comic books when I was a kid was coming across ads for the absurd: Monster Size Monsters! X-Ray Vision Glasses! Kung-fu Sandals! (AUTHENTIC! Worn for Centuries by Oriental Fighting Masters!) But my absolute favorite adverts included invitations to “Own A Bowl Full of Happiness.” For just 49¢ plus $2.99 shipping, you could raise your own “trainable” insta-pet, the Sea Monkey.

seamonkeyscomicad

Sea-Monkey ad from 1970’s comic book

Sea Monkeys fall into a general group of organisms including brine shrimp and “fairy shrimp” that, with the proper mix of nutrients and chemicals, can be stored in dry form and then “revived” with a dose of plain tap water.

Recent rains have nourished our New Jersey swamps and freshwater marshes, transforming seeming terra firma into vernal or ephemeral ponds. These ponds – or more specifically their “fairy shrimp” inhabitants – get me out in the field looking for Sea Monkeys.

The descriptive terms for these freshwater wetland types — “vernal” and “ephemeral” — refers to their habit of appearing in spring and being short-lived or temporary. Many vernal ponds in New Jersey and elsewhere were not protected during the post-World War II building boom. But with the passage of the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Action in 1987, all freshwater wetlands – including these temporary wetlands – were finally granted protection. Fairy shrimp benefit directly from these protection measures.

A common species of fairy shrimp in our New Jersey vernal ponds is Eubranchipus vernalis. It grows between 0.5 and 1.5 inches in length, and other than its forked tail and large, stalked, compound eyes, its most obvious features are the 11 pairs of feathery appendages it uses for swimming, breathing and feeding. It collects algae, bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, and detritus on the feather-like structures and transfers that material to its mouth by other appendages. In addition, it will scavenge dead tadpoles, mollusks and amphibian eggs.

Eubranchipus vernalis

Eubranchipus vernalis. Image from www.bugguide.net

The shrimp’s reproductive strategy is fascinating. After mating, the male dies. The females are easily distinguished from males by the egg-filled brood sac on their abdomen, and the sac contains one of two types of fertilized eggs depending on the density of males in the pond. A low density of males results in thin-shelled “summer eggs,” which have a very short incubation period and hatch inside the brood sac. A high density of males results in thick-shelled “winter eggs” that eventually fall to the bottom of the pond and remain there even when the pond dries out. They will hatch the following spring, when the pond refills, and they have an amazing capacity to withstand extreme elements, including temperatures that are probably never encountered in nature: from a high of just below boiling (210 degrees) to a low extreme of -310 degrees.

The powdered thick-walled eggs of fairy shrimp are the type that my sister Julie purchased in 1978 from the back of an Archie Comic Book. It is this egg stage that enables the fairy shrimp to be distributed to other potential vernal ponds. Fairy shrimp eggs are tiny, dry granules that can be blown by the wind or picked up on the feet of animals and carried to other vernal ponds. These thick-walled, dry eggs remain viable even after 15 years, and the eggs are supposed to hatch 30 hours after being submerged in water.

Sadly, Julie’s order of Sea Monkeys never hatched. While she was perhaps permanently scarred by being duped into purchasing a package of powdered brine shrimp, I remain suckered in by the advertising and happily spend spring weekends exploring New Jersey’s vernal pools looking for my own Sea Monkeys to train.

Happy National Sea Monkey Day!

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