Since 2018 the LRWP has worked with Piscataway Township resident and Girl Scout Gabriella Robinson to increase awareness around water quality and actions individuals can take to improve the health of our local waters. Through this work Gabriella, a member of Troop 80877 and a rising senior, is completing the requirements for her Gold Award, Girl Scout’s highest honor. We are so grateful to Gabriella for her stewardship! See below for a summary of her work, in her own words, with a link to a video she developed for outreach. Thank you, Ella!
By Gabriella Robinson
Go Green Central NJ is a water pollution prevention and awareness project!
I have been working on my project for about 2-3 years (2018 to present) and joined local cleanups, organized cleanups, and participated in discussions on environmental racism and how it connects to water pollution. I also created a video to increase the awareness of pollution of the Raritan River. I wanted people to know that every piece of garbage they pick up makes a difference in improving the water quality of the Raritan River and our community. Through these activities, I have learned more about what we can do to lower water pollution and bring awareness to others. I hope to continue helping others with my project to prevent water pollution!
Join the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership at the May meeting of the Middlesex County Water Resources Association for a presentation on 2019 Water Quality Monitoring Findings and Next Steps for 2020!
Monday May 11, 1:30-3:30 pm. We will meet in the Middlesex County Administration Building, Freeholder Meeting Room
Raritan River Enterococci results for 8.22.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
This is the second of three articles in a series about stormwater management by Kate Douthat, a third year PhD candidate in the graduate program of Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers. Kate’s research is examining the plant communities that have formed in urban stormwater systems. She is interested in the extensive stormwater infrastructure network in New Jersey and how we can use plants to improve water quality. Kate loves to share her enthusiasm about plants and to teach the public about the stormwater systems in our backyards. She has agreed to develop a series of informative blogs for the LRWP’s readers and will also lead our #booksfortheriver book club starting Fall 2019. You can see more of her writing about plants and water resources on katedouthatecology.com
There are over 16,000 stormwater basins in all of New Jersey (https://hydro.rutgers.edu/). Locally, there are over 1500 detention basins in the Lower Raritan Watershed. Enhancing the functions of these basins represents a large-scale opportunity to restore environmental quality. Of the 16,000 basins in the state, approximately half are detention basins, meaning that they are designed to drain of stormwater within 72 hours, and remain dry most of the time. Most of these detention basins are lined with grass that is mown weekly or bi-weekly like a lawn. Some basins are lined with dense native plants that are mown only once per year instead of mown grass. Using native plants can save time and money and add badly-needed habitat for pollinators and other insects. When detention basins are lined with native plants, the thicker vegetation can also trap contaminants and prevent them from running into streams and drinking water sources. This type of approach to water management that mimics the natural water cycle is known as “green infrastructure”.
Replacing mown grass in detention basins with a mix of native vegetation in stormwater catch basins is a practice that is gaining momentum in New Jersey to prevent non-point source pollution from reaching streams and rivers. Non-point source pollution is the pollution picked up by rainwater from the ground that cannot be traced to any particular source. Contaminants of concern for drinking water and stream health include excess nutrients, which can choke waterways, and eroded sediments that are swept up in runoff. According to the USEPA, these non-point source pollutants are the leading cause of water quality problems today (https://www.epa.gov/nps/basic-information-about-nonpoint-source-nps-pollution).
While the concept of using
native plants in stormwater basins clearly has merit, we don’t yet which which
plants are best suited to this application. There are plant lists out there,
and we know which species live in natural wetlands; however, the plants in detention
basins must survive difficult conditions including flood, drought, and polluted
water. In many cases, the species that were originally planted in detention
basins have died out to be replaced by species that come in as seeds from the
surrounding area, so the planting lists need refinement. Research is required
to determine which plants can succeed in detention basins.
We also don’t know which the best filters are. In general, denser vegetation is better at filtering suspended solids, but it may be that different plants are successful at filtering different pollutants. New Jersey estimates for the removal of suspended solids in vegetated basins range from 60-90 percent based on the design. Estimates of removal rates for nutrients vary, and this process is less well understood. When designing and building basins, it is important to use plants that both survive and provide the best filtering possible. That is why two of the basic questions of my research are: 1) What are the dominant plant species in detention basins? and 2) Which species lead to the best water quality improvement?
By understanding the plants communities that are living in in stormwater basins and how they are related to factors in the environment, my goal is to improve their design and thus improve water quality and the beauty of the landscape. Replacing mown grass with mixed native vegetation can have a cascade of positive effects, including providing islands of refuge for songbirds, pollinators, and wetland plant species in urban landscapes.
This is the first of three articles in a series about stormwater management by Kate Douthat, a third year PhD candidate in the graduate program of Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers. Kate’s research is examining the plant communities that have formed in urban stormwater systems. She is interested in the extensive stormwater infrastructure network in New Jersey and how we can use plants to improve water quality. Kate loves to share her enthusiasm about plants and to teach the public about the stormwater systems in our backyards. She has agreed to develop a series of informative blogs for the LRWP’s readers and will also lead our #booksfortheriver book club starting Fall 2019. You can see more of her writing about plants and water resources on katedouthatecology.com
When it rains, water runs
across roads, parking lots, and lawns, picking up pollutants and debris. In
order to prevent flooding in developed areas, where the soil is not absorbent
because it is covered by pavement or buildings, this runoff, termed “stormwater,”
is channeled into storm drains. In nature, wetlands play an important role in
the landscape as regulators of flood waters and sinks for excess nutrients and
pollutants that are swept up in storm water. Green infrastructure is an
approach to water management that mimics natural storage and filtering
functions of wetlands by using plants and soils rather than drains and pipes.
We don’t yet have a good understanding of which plants are best suited to green
infrastructure, so that is the topic of my research.
Once stormwater enters a drain, it can have different fates. One type of municipal sewer system is called a combined sewer system. A combined sewer system combines sewage from your house (toilet sewage) with stormwater runoff from storm drains. This creates a large volume of contaminated water that must be treated at water treatment plants. This type of system is more common in older cities in the U.S., and in 21 cities in New Jersey (https://www.nj.gov/dep/dwq/cso-basics.htm). In New Jersey, most combined sewer systems are in cities near NYC, and a few around Philadelphia. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection hosts a web map to show those locations.
The second type of sewer system is a separate system. A separate system keeps sewage containing human waste in one set of pipes, and stormwater runoff from storm drains in another set of pipes. The latter has the the witty nickname MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system). The sewage goes to a waste water treatment plant, while the stormwater is released to streams or rivers. This relieves pressure on waste water treatment plants and prevents overflows of untreated sewage. However, stormwater is usually contaminated with all of the urban dross it picks up, including pet waste, leaked gas and oil from our cars, excess lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Stormwater moves more quickly over smooth, paved surfaces than rough natural ones, so stormwater can accumulate quickly and cause floods.
In New Jersey and many places in the U.S., water from storm drains is temporarily stored in artificial detention basins or ponds before draining to streams and rivers. In principle this prevents the water from a rain storm from concentrating in a stream all at once and flooding its banks. A detention basin receives water from the storm sewer, then passively allows it to drain out the other side. The outlet pipe is small though, restricting the water leaving the basin to a low, steady volume. Detention basins were originally designed for flood control, but we are now realizing that they could be redesigned to provide more functions. The expanded functions for detention basins include pollutant filtering, ground water recharge, and provision of habitat.
Most detention basins are lined with grass that is mown weekly or biweekly like a lawn. In order to increase the functions of the basin, managers are changing to a mix of dense vegetation that is mown annually. This simple change can have a big impact and is the subject of my research. In my next post I’ll talk more about why I’m interested in studying detention basins, what I hope to find out, and how it can change our watershed for the better.
Article and Photos by 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.
Internship Diary / August, 2018
For this visit to my assigned assessment site, I had new members of my ‘team’. It so happens that two of my godsons were visiting from London, UK, where they reside and go to school. Alex, 14 years old, and Mathieu, 12 years old, were presented with the option of participating as full team members to do a stream assessment at the Ambrose Brook. They readily agreed, and we set off for the stream site.
The day was partly cloudy upon arrival and proceeded to get more clouded over as our time at the stream advanced. I appreciated very much the extra eyes and hands, given that it would take a group effort to undertake and finish all the measurements required of the assessment. It was so nice to have the company and the opportunity to share this activity with them. They asked some pertinent questions in regard to the site, as well as concerning the focus of the project. We were armed with marker flags, tape measure and ruler, thermometer, stop watch, and the required forms to fill out. In addition, as a nod to my own childhood, I had dug out of storage the red plastic duckie that I had used so (too) many years ago when I was a child. After having sealed the seams with glue, it proved to be water ready and floatable, and was thrown into our equipment bag.
Upon arrival, we did a quick survey of the site. I gave the boys an overview of the project as we walked the required distance to mark off where we would take our measurements and set our marker flags. We were not particularly surprised to note that summer was on the wane, and the stream site showed the effects of the copious summer rain fall of this year and the subtle yet visible march of time on the greenery. There were a few trees already beginning to drop some leaves, apparent at their base as well as at the edges of the stream. Some windfallen branches had made their way into the stream on both sides, evidence of the frequent storms that had buffeted our area during the preceding summer months. In addition, the water level had risen, as marked by mud splashes on bushes, trunks and the mud banks. There were a few ducks and Canadian geese, who had vacated the surrounding lawns and walkways; that day, they were floating lazily on the water’s surface between the far bank and the island, oblivious to our presence.
Ambrose Brook, August 2018 – Margo Persin
High water at Ambrose Brook, August 2018 – Margo Persin
At that point, the boys and I got to work. Alex and I did the physical measuring, including wading to the middle of the stream to measure depth and velocity, while Mathieu took on the role of scribe and stop watch handler. The first order of business was to observe, consult and come to a shared decision in regard to water conditions. My team mates took their jobs seriously and we were able to arrive at mutually acceptable readings of turbidity and stream flow. The next order of business was to measure width, depth and velocity. Armed with the rubber duck and ruler, Alex waded to the starting point while I headed in the opposite direction. Mathieu had been instructed in the subtleties of the stop watch, and as the two of us with wet feet called out the various measurements and Mathieu proceeded to fill out the form. All of us – Alex, Mathieu, me, and the rubber duck – showed ourselves up to the task and we were able to finish that part of the assessment in due time.
After exiting the stream, it began to rain, so the three of us made a mad dash back to my vehicle, where we took refuge and worked through the rest of the form. The boys were more than willing to express their views in regard to stream characteristics as well as all the elements of high gradient monitoring. We reviewed the results in order to make sure that we were of one accord in regard to our observations and conclusions. They did a wonderful job of giving themselves over to the project, with determination, seriousness, intellectual curiosity, good humor, and dedication. After approximately one and half hours, we took our leave and headed to a nearby ice cream parlor for a well-deserved reward. Their company and participation were most welcome and I hope that this experience will inspire in them the desire to become involved with environmental projects of their own, whether on their own or in conjunction with their school curriculum.
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.”
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:
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj what actions would you take as Gov to make NJ’s water sector more energy efficient?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support the use of citizen science as input into climate change modeling for the state of NJ?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support implementing a state-wise water reuse assistance program?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj will you reinstate the 2007 flood hazard area control act rules?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Governor how would you encourage integrated watershed management in NJ?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Governor do you support the creation of stormwater utilities in NJ?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj do you support the use of citizen science as input into watershed modeling for the state of NJ?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how will you position NJ to secure funding from USEPA revolving loan program for water & wastewater infrastructure?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how does closing the water infrastructure investment gap play into your plans to create jobs & strengthen the economy?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj how will you help NJ’s towns secure funding from USEPA’s State Revolving Loan Program for H20 infrastructure improvements?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov@Pete4nj as Gov, how would you help smooth the path to alternative financing & funding of H20 & wastewater infrastructure in NJ?
@PhilMurphyNJ @KimGuadagnoNJ @KaperDaleForGov @Pete4nj do you support moving the state to 100% renewables by 2035?
@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.
Thursday October 12 is “Imagine a Day Without Water” Day. Can you even begin to imagine a day without water? It isn’t just your personal use of water – brushing your teeth, flushing your toilet, taking a shower – though those rituals are vital. Water is also essential to a functioning economy. What is a college campus or a hotel supposed to do if there is no water? They close. How can a restaurant, coffee shop, or brewery serve customers without water to cook, make coffee and beer, or wash the dishes? They can’t. And what about manufacturers – from pharmaceuticals to automobiles – that rely on water? They would grind to a halt too. An economic study released by the Value of Water Campaign earlier this year found that a single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk.
Imagine a Day Without Water is an annual day of awareness that highlights the importance of safe, affordable water to all facets of everyday life. In recognition of the 2017 Imagine A Day Without Water, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is unveiling our new “Community Resources for Water Quality” tool developed to improve the accessibility of information about preserving water quality for folks in the Lower Raritan Watershed. The “Community Resources for Water Quality” tool lists and describes publications and other types of materials available through the Rutgers-New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) specific to maintaining or improving water condition in our communities. The tool is designed to assist Environmental Commissions, Green Teams and/or other interested residents to improve, preserve and restore stream areas and watersheds. We think it’s pretty neat!
Water is a public health issue, it is an economic issue. No community can thrive without water, and everyone deserves a safe, reliable, accessible water supply. Our new tool highlights things that every one of us can do to preserve and improve our water resources to make sure that no one ever has to imagine a day without water again. Please check out the tool, and let us know how it inspires you to preserve or restore our water resources!
With thanks to Rutgers-NJAES and Joan Kaplan with the Rutgers Environmental Steward program for their assistance in developing this tool.
Monday September 18 is World Water Monitoring Day!
Join the LRWP and coLAB arts to celebrate with an after-work picnic (5:30-7:30pm) along New Brunswick’s Boyd Park waterfront! Bring your dinner (or something to share). We’ll supply beverages, paper products and dessert. RSVPs requested: firstname.lastname@example.org
The event will include water quality monitoring demos (ph, salinity, phosphorus, nitrate-nitrogen, turbidity, dissolved oxygen), project updates on the Rail-Arts-River and “frames” sculptural installation, picnicking and a Raritan River “story slam” with coLAB Arts.
Want to participate in the Story Slam? We are looking for 4-5 people to tell their stories about the Raritan River at our September 18 event. Do you have a special, original Raritan River story to share? Let us know by August 31! We’ll then make arrangements for you to work with coLAB’s Dusty Ballard and John Keller who will help you prepare to tell your story on stage. This must be a personal, true story, that happened to you where you are the central character and it should somehow relate to the Raritan River or Lower Raritan Watershed. Though we love fiction, we’re interested in the truth. Your truth. Spill all of the details!
Stories must be within a 4-to-8-minute time frame. Tell ONE story with a beginning middle and end containing a series of events that grow to a climax. Though we love stand up comedy, this is not a stand up set. We’re only interested in the thoughts, feelings, and emotions you experienced through this ONE story from your life that you’ve prepared.