Rethinking and Restoring Our Rivers

Posted on by Brian Cowden, Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative Coordinator

Introduction by Margaret Waldock, Environment Program Director

Viewing a map of New Jersey, it’s hard to miss the expansive highway and road system that has fueled economic growth and sprawling development. But there is another network of crisscrossing lines on the map equally if not more important to New Jersey’s past and future prosperity: the streams and rivers of our state.  From the mighty Passaic River, which fueled an industrial revolution, to the Delaware, where patriots crossed, turning the tide in our struggle for independence, New Jersey’s rivers are an enduring, life sustaining contributor to our health and prosperity and we humans have had a tremendous impact on these natural systems.

Dams have driven industry, generated power, and created reservoirs and drinking water supply; they have also blocked natural flow and sedimentation patterns, impeded wildlife migration, and negatively impacted water quality. There are hundreds of dams considered a “high hazard” by the New Jersey Division of Dam Safety, the damage associated with dam breach can be considerable, and repair and remediation of these structures is expensive, and a liability to the private landowners on whose land many of these dams sit .

More and more, dam removal is considered a viable option to eliminating these safety hazards and groups like Trout Unlimited view this as a critical strategy to restoring New Jersey’s rivers. Through its Home Rivers Initiative, Trout Unlimited is focused on restoring the Musconetcong River, a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River that flows from Morris County into the Delaware River, and serves as the dividing line between Hunterdon and Warren counties. There are currently 34 regulated dams on the Musconetcong, the majority of which no longer serve their original function and are not in compliance with dam safety regulations. The Musconetcong River is a spectacular waterway, and Trout Unlimited and it hundreds of volunteer members would like to ensure it remains so. Dam removal is an essential part of their strategy, and when combined with wetland and riparian buffer restoration, provides a hopeful prospect for the river’s future as a high quality natural wonder with tremendous recreational opportunity.

Trout Unlimited

Mohawk Canoe Club Gives Musconetcong River Restoration a Big Thumbs Up

Recently, TU restored two sites of the Musconetcong River in NJ, totaling a mile of river that had severely degraded channels from past land use practices.  The newly restored water now has deepened pools, restored riffles and runs and lots of good trout habitat for native brook trout.  This work was done in both Mansfield Township on the upper river and in Washington Township on the middle river; including three private properties and one public property, the Cliffdale Inn, along Route 57N in Mansfield.  Support for this work came from grants from the Natural Resource Conservation Service using Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program funds along with funding from the NJ TU State Council.

Restoring Recreation

These efforts restored trout habitat where upstream development had widened the channel in Mansfield and where channel straightening destroyed aquatic habitat in lower Washington. In addition to providing restored habitat, the newly restored river channel is providing lots of new paddling opportunities for canoeists and kayakers.  In the photo above, a member of the Mohawk Canoe Club enjoys the newly restored section of the Musconetcong River that was previously devoid of deeper water and decent passage for paddlers except during high water. •

Related article (the before and after photos are pretty amazing!): Musconetcong River Channel Restoration Projects Completed

Brian Cowden is the Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative.

Trout Unlimited logo

TU has thousands of volunteers working out of more than 400 chapters nationwide to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries. They donate well over 500,000 hours every year to clean up polluted streams, restore water to dried-up rivers, and teach children about responsible stewardship and good fishing.

Additionally, a professional staff of more than 120 scientists, grassroots organizers, lawyers and policy experts provides a national context for these local efforts. They tackle legal and legislative challenges to the health of our nation’s rivers and help TU bring cutting-edge scientific tools, such as infra-red satellite imagery and sophisticated fish tracking devices, to bear on difficult problems like pollution, habitat loss and climate change.

Image courtesy Trout Unlimited

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2 Responses to Rethinking and Restoring Our Rivers

  1. […] recent Dodge blog posts: Rethinking and Restoring Our Rivers and Time is Money, So Take It to the Bank (and Other Community Building […]

  2. Marie Cush says:

    Re: Mile10.9 on the Lower Passaic River – Lyndhurst, New Jersey

    Dear Sir:

    On January 17th, 2013 there was a meeting at our local Senior Center conducted by CAG (A Community Advisory Group) in conjunction with FEMA representatives.

    I live in the Township of Lyndhurst, Bergen County New Jersey. This town has been inundated four times with not only sewage but the contaminated Passaic River.

    I have lived here 35 years and these events are relatively recent, in 1994 it was a Northeaster. In 1999 it was Hurricane Floyd, then Hurricane Irene, August 2011 and most recently Hurricane Sandy, October 29, 2012.

    We are now part of a “Supper Fund” and a project is scheduled to commence this July. Many members of the community attended a meeting conducted by the EPA. At a substantial cost, which in the collective opinion of the community, is merely a bandage at a very high price to remove approximately two feet of contaminated silt which has created what is being referred to as a mud flat. The plan is to remove the contaminants and then top off the mud flat with sand. This contamination has been in the making since the Viet Nam war, Agent Orange was being produced downriver. This area is so thoroughly contaminated due to past politicians turning a blind eye to the environment in the name of progress and industry for which we are now paying the price. These factories I am sure were working under Government contracts for their product.
    This is a senseless project. It merely addresses a very small area. The intention is to remove contaminants by dredging a 2 foot mud flat, packing the sediment up and shipping them elsewhere and then capping the area with sand/soil. The contamination fore and aft of this area is not being addressed and when and if the Newark Basin is addressed this being a tidal river what is going to stop the contaminants downriver proceeding up river with each and every incoming tide? Which probably will create another mud flat equally contaminated as to what is supposed to be removed. Nothing in my lifetime is ever going to decontaminate the Passaic River. Further up river, not pristine but better than we are, but downriver is a disaster which will only continue to flow up river with each incoming tide, twice a day, every day, only to create a new mud flat. I believe what is being done is merely busy work at the cost of many millions of dollars. ($20,000,000)
    This community needs remediation. The banks of the river, due to the numerous recent storms have been severely depleted. That situation can and should be addressed before anything else is done in the river. There are many cost effective ways of raising the banks of the river which will at the very least save the homes of families that have been underwater four times in recent years. Our Governor calls the shots about opening and closing dams upriver with, from our viewpoint, little concern for those of us downriver. Much of the damage in this area has man’s hand in it- highway project with obstructions in the river, dams upriver opened and closed at the Governor’s will. We have tampered with Mother Nature and the lay of the land.
    Something can be done to stop the floods in this area and that something is raising the riverbank and I am reasonably sure the cost doesn’t even come close of this piecemeal removal (starting in the middle). Anyone with an ounce of commonsense can see this is not going to solve anything for those of us who live here. There is one aspect of the project that makes a little sense and that is the installation of check valves/backflow valves to stop the sewage being washed up to people’s homes. The check valves are only effective if the river does not overflow its banks.
    Our local officials have indicated the cost of remediation of the river bank would cost approximately 1 million dollars a mile. The contamination that exists in this river was done over the course of time and based on the fact that testing done upriver for contaminants has indicated the levels at a much lower level than what is present in this area. Therefore, I see the first priority is to restore and construct retaining walls along the river first, in an effort to insure this area no longer be flooded due to the ongoing erosion and the need to do what will be saving the homes of families that have been flooded four times in recent years and as the economy improves lower the river and do whatever removal of the contamination is possible no one is fishing or swimming in these waters.
    In every event that has ever happened across our nation whether it was devastation by hurricanes or tornados remediation is the line of action that is everywhere except in our 4 times hit town. Not one thing has been done to avoid these floods storm after storm. Even the Jersey Shore almost immediately has started to rebuild the shoreline but not here, not even after being hit four times in recent years.
    In recent newspaper articles there are several stories regarding what is being done in Long Branch, Bradley Beach, Park Ridge, Alpine, Englewood and Ridgefield Park to save the home of two eagles and other remediation projects, but not here, why?
    We are in desperate need to have the banks of the Passaic raised before anything else. It is not my intention to minimize what has occurred throughout the States of New Jersey and New York, but we have endured devastation four times not just Sandy, something sustaining and sensible and cost effective removing two feet of silt at the cost of 20 million dollars is neither sensible or cost effective.
    The fact that that much money can be allocated for a project that has no hope of remedying the contamination problem which has existed since 1951 with the production of Agent Orange produced in Newark and dumped in the Passaic River only to create a devastation in this body water which is now being deposited in peoples’ living rooms, kitchens, basements and backyards with the lack of maintenance of the riverbank and what appears to be a lack of concern on the part of our officials to do something about it.
    There are many environmental friendly remedies that can be applied and possibly even less costly than cost of 20 million dollars to remove 2 feet of contamination with no guarantee that the mud flat will not rebuild itself.
    Respectfully yours,
    Marie Cush

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