Understanding The Updated NJ Stormwater Rule

In March 2020, NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) published the long-awaited revisions to the New Jersey Stormwater Management Rule (N.J.A.C. 7:8), which now requires the use of green infrastructure. But what do these updates actually mean for New Jersey’s stormwater infrastructure?

At Princeton Hydro, we recognize the benefit of green infrastructure and we’ve been incorporating it into our engineering designs since before the term was regularly used in the stormwater lexicon. We’ve been following the rule amendments very closely, so we’ve got the inside scoop on how to interpret these new updates. In this blog, we’ll break down the complexities and changes to help you understand what’s really going on.

What is Green Infrastructure?

So, let’s start with what green infrastructure actually is in a general sense. Many people think of green infrastructure solely as a way to classify certain stormwater best management practices, or BMPs, but in reality, it goes much deeper than that. Green infrastructure is an approach to engineering design that emphasizes the use of natural processes. Examples include green roofs, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, vegetated bioswales, and living shorelines. In general, approaching environmental management from this lens can help reduce costs and negative impacts to our ecosystems. The benefit to using green infrastructure over structural grey infrastructure is that these living BMPs are incredibly resilient. Being living systems, green infrastructure BMPs help decrease stormwater volume, as soil and vegetation naturally retain and evapotranspire water. Afterall, those natural processes have successfully worked for billions of years, so why not mimic them in our design?

In addition to effectively managing stormwater, green infrastructure has other added benefits such as reducing the heat island effect, reducing energy use, removing pollutants from the air, beautifying public spaces, and even increasing property value. Though the actual practice of green infrastructure may seem new and innovative, the concept has been around for decades.

What’s Changed?

So now, let’s get to the updated regulations. The biggest takeaway from this update is that green infrastructure is now required to meet the three performance criteria that NJDEP sets forth for stormwater management. The amendments to the rule give definitions of green infrastructure as it applies to stormwater management. The rule defines green infrastructure as follows:

“‘Green Infrastructure’ means a stormwater management measure that manages stormwater close to its source by:

  1. Treating stormwater runoff through infiltration into subsoil;

  2. Treating stormwater runoff through filtration by vegetation or soil; or

  3. Storing stormwater runoff for reuse.”

NJDEP evaluates stormwater management compliance through three basic performance metrics: (1) groundwater recharge, (2) water quality, and (3) peak flow control. While these metrics have remained relatively unchanged under the amended rule, the requirements for meeting them have been modified to include green infrastructure. The pre-existing rule required that major developments incorporate nonstructural stormwater management BMPs/strategies to the “maximum extent practicable” to meet their criteria. The amended rule not only gives specific suggestions for the kind of BMPs it’s looking for by adding a definition of green infrastructure, but it also makes those BMPs/strategies a requirement for compliance with the rule’s minimum standards.

The rule also includes tables outlining/summarizing the application of each type of stormwater BMP. One of the biggest changes here is that some of those BMPs have drainage area limitations, which could pose new challenges in the design process.

As stated above, the rule defines green infrastructure as, “a stormwater management measure that manages stormwater close to its source.” This is where those drainage area limitations come into play. Dry wells have a one acre drainage area limitation, which is not new, however, pervious pavement has a 3:1 ratio requirement, meaning that the water flowing over standard pavement, or impervious surfaces, should not be more than three times greater than the area of the pervious pavement.

Likewise, in the amended rule, BMPs like bioretention systems, have a drainage area limitation of 2.5 acres. The addition of this requirement will require designers to spread BMPs out throughout their site, instead of simply including one large structural BMP in a single location on the site. This approach decentralizes and distributes BMPs, enabling more stormwater to infiltrate into the ground, rather than runoff. Because this method more clostely mimics the natural water cycle, it is expected to foster better long-term performance of the BMPs.

This 2.5-acre drainage area limitation is going to effect stormwater design in that it will lead to BMP decentralization. So, project sites will likely have numerous smaller BMPs that will be distributed throughout the area, as opposed to having one large basin at the bottom of the site. This applies, in particular, to large scale commercial and residential projects, as the updated rule will discourage, and in most cases actually not allow, for the implementation of one large basin at the bottom of the site, which currently is common practice in large-scale development design.

Motor Vehicle Surfaces

Another update to the rule is that motor vehicle surfaces are now incorporated into the definition of major development, which was further clarified and defined as:

Any individual ‘development,’ as well as multiple developments that individually or collectively result in:

  1. The disturbance of one or more acres of land since February 2, 2004;

  2. The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated impervious surface” since February 2, 2004;

  3. The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated motor vehicle surface” since March 2,2021; or

  4. A combination of 2 and 3 above that totals an area of one-quarter acre or more. The same surface shall not be counted twice when determining if the combination area equals one quarter acre or more.

The amended rule requires these motor vehicle surfaces to have 80% total suspended solids (TSS) removal, in order to maintain water quality. These surfaces include standard pavement drive/parking areas and gravel and dirt drive/parking areas, according to the rule. However, the rule does not require water quality control for runoff from other impervious surfaces that are not traveled by automobiles, such as rooftops and sidewalks, or other paved walkway areas.

Revisions to BMP Manual

In addition to the changes made to the actual rule, NJDEP released an updated draft of Chapters 5, 12, 13, and Appendix D of the NJ Stormwater BMP Manual, which is currently open for public comment. Chapter 5 regards Stormwater Management and Quantity and Quality Standards and Computations and Chapter 12 regards Soil Testing Criteria. The biggest update to the manual is the addition of the recently finalized Chapter 13: Groundwater Table Hydraulic Impact Assessments for Infiltration BMPs, which requires design engineers to assess the hydraulic impact on the groundwater table to avoid adverse impacts such as surficial ponding, flooding of basements, interference with sewage disposal systems, and interference with the proper functioning of the BMP itself. The addition of this chapter will ensure that these issues are minimized, helping to improve the state’s stormwater management practices overall.

What does this all mean for New Jersey Municipalities?

New Jersey municipalities will need to comply with the new standards, as the NJ Stormwater Management Rule represents the minimum requirements for stormwater control ordinances. The law states that municipalities must update their ordinances by March 2, 2021. To make this transition a bit smoother, NJDEP has released a revised model ordinance in Appendix D of the NJ Stormwater BMP Manual to act as a sample for municipalities to follow when adopting these new regulations. Similar to before, municipalities do have the ability to require stricter stormwater performance metrics, but the criteria outlined in the rule are the minimum that must be met under the new regulations.

For more information on the updates to the stormwater regulations, you can check out an informational webinar (below) hosted by NJ-AWRA and The Watershed Institute. This webinar includes three presentations by New Jersey stormwater experts, including our Director of Stormwater Management & Green Infrastructure, Dr. Clay Emerson, PE, CFM.

Bloomfield: Restoration Efforts Transforming Industrial Site Into Thriving Public Park

A densely developed, flood-prone, former industrial site in Bloomfield, New Jersey is being transformed into a thriving public park and 4.2 acres of wetlands. This is thanks to the Third River Floodplain Wetland Enhancement Project, which broke ground in March of 2019. The project will restore valuable ecological functions and natural floodplain connection, enhance aquatic and wildlife habitat, and increase flood storage capacity for urban stormwater runoff.

The project team has already made tremendous progress at the site, which is located along the Third River and Spring Brook, two freshwater tributaries of the Passaic River. Princeton Hydro is serving as the ecological engineer to Bloomfield Township; our scientists and engineers have assisted in obtaining grants, collected background ecological data through field sampling and surveying, created a water budget, completed all necessary permitting, designed both the conceptual and final restoration plans, and continues to conduct construction oversight during the implementation of this important urban wetland creation project.

The project team recently utilized a drone to document the significant progress being made:

 

View of the construction progress with the proposed wetland to the upper half of the photo. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

View of the construction progress with the proposed wetland to the upper half of the photo. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Close-up view of the wetland construction progress. Note the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil as well as the habitat features constructed of trees and natural rock uncovered during the excavation process. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Close-up view of the wetland construction progress. Note: the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil as well as the habitat features constructed of trees and natural rock uncovered during the excavation process. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Nearly complete grading of the proposed wetland. Note the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Nearly complete grading of the proposed wetland. Note: the hummocks and hollows created with the wetland soil. Photo provided by Creamer Environmental.

Over 500 trees and shrubs have been planted in the new wetland with additional trees and shrubs planted along Lion Gate Drive and in existing woodlands. The selected native plant species all provide important wildlife value, including providing food and shelter for migratory birds. Enviroscapes was contracted to install all of the trees and wetland plants at this site and has nearly finished planting efforts:

Removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants, shrubs and trees sets the stage for a flourishing native plant community year after year.

Removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants, shrubs and trees, sets the stage for a flourishing wetland habitat.

The project is progressing quickly as the weather warms. Nearly all of the plantings have been installed and seeding is happening in the next two weeks.

This green infrastructure project will re-establish the natural floodplain wetland and riparian plant communities.

This green infrastructure project will re-establish the natural floodplain wetland and riparian plant communities.

We’re excited to see what the restoration will look like when it’s all finished. Check out additional photos below and stay tuned for project updates!

To learn more, check out the full story below:

Urban Wetland Restoration to Yield Flood Protection for Bloomfield Residents

Ecological Uplift in an Urban Setting

The City of Elizabeth, the fourth most populous in New Jersey, is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when envisioning a wild landscape. This bustling urban area is well known for its Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal and the Philips 66 Bayway Refinery, and sits at the intersection of several major roadways like the NJ Turnpike and the Goethals Bridge. The landscape, which was once teeming with dense wetlands and associated habitats, is now heavily urbanized with a vast mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. The largely channelized Elizabeth River courses through the city for 4.2 miles before draining into the Arthur Kill waterway. However, in this 14-square mile city, native flora and fauna are taking root again thanks to ecological restoration and mitigation efforts.

Urban landscapes like Elizabeth can pose significant challenges for restoration efforts, but they also provide an array of opportunity for significant ecological uplift.

In 2004, Princeton Hydro was retained to restore an 18-acre site adjacent to the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park, which is located in an area that was once part of a large contiguous wetland system abutting Newark Bay. The site was comprised of a significantly disturbed mosaic of wetland and upland areas and a monoculture of Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed, on historic fill. Historic fill consists of non-native material, historically placed to raise grades, and typically contains contaminated material not associated with the operations of the site on which it was placed.

The highly invasive Phragmites australis had overtaken most of the wetland areas, and the upland woodland areas only contained four tree species, mostly Eastern Cottonwood, with very low wildlife value. The 18-acre site had huge potential but was significantly degraded and was being vastly underutilized. Overall, the mitigation plan focused on the enhancement of existing wetland and transition areas to increase the area’s wildlife value through the establishment of a more desirable, diverse assemblage of native species subsequent to eradication of non-native-invasive species.

2005 (Before Plantings)
2019
In 2004, Prologis hired Princeton Hydro to restore an 18-acre area adjacent to the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park, which a significantly disturbed and degraded mosaic of wetland and upland areas. This project serves as an example of how degraded urban areas can be successfully rehabilitated and the land’s natural function restored and enhanced.

The freshwater wetland aspect of the mitigation plan, which included inundated emergent, emergent, and forested habitat, was designed to be a combination of wetland creation (2.40 acres) and enhancement (8.79 acres), emphasizing the establishment of more species rich wetlands in order to increase biodiversity and improve the site’s wildlife food value.

The upland forest aspect of the mitigation plan involved the enhancement of 5.40 acres and creation of 1.45 acres of upland forest to foster the development of a species rich and structurally complex upland forest. The upland areas targeted for enhancement/creation consisted of areas where woody vegetation was lacking or forested areas that were dominated by eastern cottonwood.

2008
2019
The 18-acre site in Elizabeth, NJ had huge potential but was significantly degraded and was being vastly underutilized. The mitigation plan emphasized the establishment of more species rich wetlands in order to increase biodiversity and improve the site’s wildlife habitat value.

The project team worked to remove Phragmites australis from the site utilizing a combination of herbicide and mechanical removal techniques. Once the Phragmites australis was cleared, the team installed 27,000 two-inch native herbaceous plant plugs in the wetland portions of the mitigation site, and 2,705 native trees/shrubs throughout the site.

In order to ensure the continued success of the mitigation project, monitoring is regularly conducted at the site. A monitoring report conducted at the end of 2019 revealed a plethora of well-established habitat areas, a diverse community of plant and tree species, and a thriving, highly-functional landscape.

2004 (Before Plantings)
september 2019
In 2004, before the restoration work began, the site consisted of degraded Phragmites australis dominated wetlands and an urban woodland area dominated by Eastern cottonwood. The planting component of the mitigation project commenced in 2015, and the installation of all woody plant material began Fall 2015 and was completed in Fall 2016. The 2019 Monitoring Report revealed the plantings are well-established and the area is thriving.

Presently, the Elizabeth Seaport Business Park Mitigation Site boasts a variety of productive wildlife habitats that are rare in a highly urbanized setting and provides valuable ecosystem services, including sediment retention and roosting, foraging, and nesting opportunities for both resident and migratory bird species with over 150 bird species identified within the mitigation site.

2008
2019
The Elizabeth Seaport Business Park site was comprised of a monoculture of Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed. The mitigation plan focused on enhancing the existing wetland by eradicating non-native-invasive plant species, like Phragmites, and establishing more diverse population of productive, native species with high ecological value.

This project serves as an example of how degraded urban areas can be successfully rehabilitated and the land’s natural function restored and enhanced.  If you’d like to learn more about this project from our Natural Resources Senior Project Manager Michael Rehman, check out the video of his presentation at the 2020 Delaware Wetlands Conference below.

We’re at the Delaware Wetlands Conference and our Senior Project Manager, Michael Rehman, is presenting on a successful urban wetland restoration in Elizabeth, NJ.

Posted by Princeton Hydro on Thursday, January 30, 2020

 

If you’re interested in learning more about our wetland restoration and mitigation services, go here!

Setting the Precedent: Blue Acres Floodplain Restoration in Linden

The City of Linden, located 13 miles southwest of Manhattan in Union County, New Jersey, is a highly urbanized area with a complex mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses. Originally settled as farmland on broad marshes, the City has deep roots in industrial production that emerged in the 19th century, and its easily accessible location on the Arthur Kill tidal straight helped fuel this industrial development.

Now, the City of Linden, which is home to more than 40,000 people, is considered a transportation hub: it has three major highways running through it (the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1, and Route 27); its rail station provides critical commuter and industry access; the Linden Municipal Airport is a gateway to the NY/NJ metropolitan area; and its access point on the Arthur Kill is used by shipping traffic to the Port Authority of NY and NJ.

Unfortunately, the industrial boom left a legacy of pollution in the city, so much, that the Tremley Point Alliance submited an official Envionmental Justice Petition to the state. In 2005, the New Jersey Environmental Task Force selected the community for the development of an Environmental Justice Action Plan and listed it as one of six environmental justice communites in New Jersey.

As do many urban municipalities, Linden suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms. One of the significant sources of flood water threatening the City comes from stormwater runoff.

Like other communities in the Arthur Kill Watershed, Linden also suffers severe flooding from heavy rains and storms with one of the significant sources of flood water coming from stormwater runoff. Due to a high percentage of impervious cover from houses, roadways, and sidewalks, even small rain events generate a significant amount of stormwater runoff. Over time, these conditions have been exacerbated by the historic loss of coastal wetlands and outdated infrastructure. Nuisance flooding is especially problematic as runoff cannot drain from the area at a sufficient rate to prevent flooding during normal or elevated tidal conditions. Very simply, heavy rainfall is one factor contributing to recurring flooding.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused wide-spread destruction throughout New Jersey and the entire eastern seaboard. The City of Linden was hard hit, and the City’s Tremley Point neighborhood was especially storm-ravaged. Tremley Point, a low-lying community of about 275 homes located at the headwaters of Marshes Creek and in the 100-year floodplain of the Rahway River, is regularly flooded during normal rain events. During Hurricane Sandy, local news outlets reported that a 15-foot tidal surge overtook Tremley Point homes, destroyed roads, and washed up hazardous material such as a 150-gallon diesel tank.

To help communities like Tremley Point recover, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) launched the Blue Acres program under which NJDEP purchases homes from willing sellers at pre-Sandy market values, so residents in areas of repetitive and catastrophic flooding can rebuild their lives outside flood-prone areas. Structures are demolished and the properties are permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes. The program began in 1995 and expanded with federal funding after Sandy. The goal of the Blue Acres Program is to dramatically reduce the risk of future catastrophic flood damage and to help families to move out of harm’s way.

As part of the NJDEP Blue Acres Program, Princeton Hydro, in collaboration with the City of Linden, Rutgers University, NJDEP, Phillips 66, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Enviroscapes, has undertaken one of the first ecological restoration projects within Blue Acres-acquired properties, which are located in the Tremley Point neighborhood. This project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The City of Linden Blue Acres restoration project increases storm resiliency by reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by improving the ecological and floodplain function within the former residential properties acquired by the NJDEP Blue Acres Program.

The project includes the development and implementation of an on-the-ground green infrastructure-focused floodplain enhancement design involving the restoration of native coastal floodplain forest and meadow, as well as floodplain wetlands. The restored area provides natural buffering to storm surge and enhances floodplain functions to capture, infiltrate, store, and slow excess stormwater to reduce the risk of future flood damage. In addition, it restores natural habitat and provides public recreation access on NJDEP Blue Acres property.

The design includes re-planting the parcels and the installation of a walking path through part of the area. It also includes the creation of a floodplain bench for the adjacent drainage ditch, an unnamed tributary to Marshes Creek. A floodplain bench is a low-lying area adjacent to a stream or river constructed to allow for regular flooding in these areas. Site improvements include grading of the floodplain bench and minor depressional area; 6-12-inches of tilling, soil amendment, and planting within the planting area; and construction of the gravel pathway.

The project will result in valuable environmental and community benefits to the area, including an annual reduction in stormwater runoff of 4.1 million gallons. This represents a 45% reduction in stormwater runoff. Restoration of the floodplain will also help reduce community vulnerability to storms. The hope is that this project will be a model that fosters more floodplain restoration projects in the future.

For more information on the Blue Acres Program, please visit the DEP website.

Regional Watershed Planning: A Critical Strategy to Prevent HABs

Photo by @likethedeaadsea, submitted during our 2019 #LAKESAPPRECIATION Instagram Photo Contest.

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) were in the spotlight last summer due to the severe impacts they had on lakes throughout the country. Nation-wide, HABs caused beach closures, restricted lake usage, and led to wide-ranging health advisories. There were 39 confirmed harmful algal bloom (HAB) outbreaks in New Jersey alone.

As a reminder, HABs are rapid, large overgrowths of cyanobacteria. These microorganisms are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, but, under the right conditions (primarily heavy rains, followed by hot, sunny days), these organisms can rapidly increase to form cyanobacteria blooms, also known as HABs. HABs can cause significant water quality issues; produce toxins that are incredibly harmful (even deadly) to humans, animals, and aquatic organisms; and negatively impact economic health, especially for communities dependent on the income of jobs and tourism generated through their local lakes.

“A property’s value near an infested lake can drop by up to $85,000, and waterside communities can lose millions of dollars in revenue from tourism, boating, fishing and other sectors,” reports Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll, P.E.

Generally, the health of a private lake is funded and managed in isolation by the governing private lake association group. But, in order to mitigate HABs and protect the overall health of our local waterbodies, it’s important that we look beyond just the lake itself. Implementing regional/watershed-based planning is a critical step in preventing the spread of HABs and maintaining the overall health of our natural resources.

At the end of 2019, the Borough of Ringwood became the first municipality in New Jersey to take a regional approach to private lake management through a public-private partnership with four lake associations.

The Borough of Ringwood is situated in the heart of the New Jersey Highlands, is home to several public and private lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents. In order to take an active role in the management of these natural resources, Ringwood hired Princeton Hydro, a leader in ecological and engineering consulting, to design a municipal-wide holistic watershed management plan that identifies and prioritizes watershed management techniques and measures that are best suited for immediate and long-term implementation.

Map showing the four private lakes involved in the Borough of Ringwood's regional holistic watershed management plan.

Funding for Ringwood’s Watershed-based Assessment is being provided by the New Jersey Highlands Council through a grant reimbursement to the Borough of Ringwood. The Highlands Council offers grant funding and assistance to support the development and implementation of a wide range of planning initiatives. Examples of the types of efforts that can be funded for municipalities and counties include:

  • Land Use and Development projects like sustainable economic development planning and green building and environmental sustainability planning;
  • Infrastructure projects like stormwater management and water use/conservation management;
  • Resource Management projects like habitat conservation, lake management and water quality monitoring; and
  • Recreation and Preservation projects like land preservation and stewardship, farmland preservation and agriculture retention, and historic preservation.

Chris Mikolajczyk, CLM, Princeton Hydro’s Aquatics Senior Project Manager and the Ringwood project’s lead designer, presented with Keri Green of the NJ Highlands Council, at a recent New Jersey Coalition of Lake Associations meeting. The duo showcased Ringwood’s unique approach, spread the word about available funding through the NJ Highlands Council, and encourage other municipalities to follow Ringwood’s lead in taking a regional approach to lake and watershed management.

Mikolajczyk said, “This regional approach to lake and watershed management is a no-brainer from a scientific, technical, and community point of view. Historically, however, municipal governments and private lake associations have rarely partnered to take such an approach. The hope is that the Borough of Ringwood efforts, funded by the New Jersey Highlands Council, will set a precedent for this logical watershed management strategy and open the door for future public-private partnerships.”

This integrated approach to watershed and lake management is an important preventative measure to improve water quality for millions of people and reduce potential future incidents of aquatic invasive species and harmful algal blooms throughout the region.

To learn more about NJ Highlands Council and available grant funding, go here.
To download a complete copy of the presentations given by Mikolajczyk and Green at the recent NJCOLA meeting, go here.
To learn more about Princeton Hydro’s pond, lake and watershed management services, go here.

 

Identifying, Understanding and Addressing Harmful Algae Blooms

Harmful Algae Bloom Visible in Owasco Lake. Photo by: Tim Schneider

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) were in the spotlight this summer due to the severe impacts they had on lakes throughout the country. The nation-wide HABs outbreak caused beach closures, restricted access to lake usage, and wide-ranging health advisories.

What exactly are HABs? Why were they so severe this summer? Will this trend continue? Can anything be done to prevent the occurrence or mitigate the impacts?

In this blog, we provide answers to all of those questions, exploring what HABs are, why they occur, why they were particularly prevalent this summer, and what we can do to combat them.

What are HABs?

Simply put, HABs are rapid, large overgrowths of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, aren’t actually algae, they are prokaryotes, single-celled aquatic organisms that are closely related to bacteria and can photosynthesize like algae. These microorganisms are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, but, under the right conditions (primarily heavy rains, followed by hot, sunny days), these organisms can rapidly increase to form cyanobacteria blooms, also known as HABs.

HABs can cause significant water quality issues in lakes and ponds, often forming a visible and sometimes odorous scum on the surface of the water. They can produce toxins that are incredibly harmful (even deadly) to humans, animals, and aquatic organisms. HABs also negatively impact economic health, especially for communities dependent on the income of jobs and tourism generated through their local lakes and waterways.

What causes HABs?

HABs are caused by a complex set of conditions, and many questions remain about exactly why they occur and how to predict their timing, duration, and toxicity. Primarily, HABs are caused by warmer temperatures and stormwater run-off pollutants, including fertilizers with phosphates.

NY Times article, featuring Princeton Hydro, looks at how climate change affects lakes nationwide, using NJ as an example. Photo by: Rick Loomis, NY Times.HABs are induced by an overabundance of nutrients in the water. The two most common nutrients are fixed nitrogen (nitrates and ammonia) and phosphorus. Discharges from wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural operations, excessive fertilizer use in urban/suburban areas, and stormwater runoff can carry nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways and promote the growth of cyanobacteria.

Climate change is also a factor in HAB outbreaks, which typically occur when there are heavy rains followed by high temperatures and sunshine. Climate change is leading to more frequent, more intense rainstorms that drive run-off pollutants into waterways, coupled with more hot days to warm the water. These are the ideal conditions for HABs, which in recent years have appeared in more places, earlier in the summer.

With climate change and increasing nutrient pollution causing HABs to occur more often and in locations not previously affected, it’s important for us to learn as much as we can about HABs so that we can reduce their harmful effects.

What Can I Do to Prevent HABs?

Signs on the closed beach at Hopatcong State Park warn residents of the Harmful Algae Bloom at Lake Hopatcong on July 2019, in Landing, NJ. (Photo by: Danielle Parhizkaran of NorthJersey.comThe number one thing individuals can do to protect their waterbodies and prevent HABs is to reduce phosphorous use and reduce nutrient loads to waters.

According to Dr. Fred Lubnow, Director of Aquatic Programs for Princeton Hydro, “Managing loads of phosphorous in watersheds is even more important as the East Coast becomes increasingly warmer and wetter thanks to climate change. Climate change will likely need to be dealt with on a national and international scale. But local communities, groups, and individuals can have a real impact in reducing phosphorous levels in local waters.”

Here are a few steps you can take to improve water quality in your community lakes:

Controlling stormwater runoff is another critical factor in improving water quality and reducing HABs. There are a number of low-cost green infrastructure techniques that can be implemented on an individual and community-wide scale. You can read more about green infrastructure stormwater management techniques in our recent blog.

In a recent Op/Ed published on NJ.com, Princeton Hydro President Geoff Goll lists four things that residents, businesses, and local governments should do to prevent another HABs outbreak next summer:

  1. Improve aging “gray” infrastructure
  2. Invest in “green” stormwater infrastructure
  3. Implement regional/watershed-based planning
  4. Pass the Water Quality Protection and Jobs Creation Act

“By making the necessary investments, we can simultaneously create jobs, reduce flood impacts, improve fisheries, maintain or increase lakefront property values, improve water quality and preserve our water-based tourism. The time to act is literally now,” said Geoff. Go here, to read the full article.

HABs Management in Action through Floating Wetland Islands:

Nitrogen and phosphorus are utilized by plants, which means they uptake these nutrients to sustain growth. We see this naturally occurring in wetland ecosystems where wetlands act as a natural water filtration system and can actually thrive from nutrients flowing in from external sources.

This process is replicated in floating wetland islands (FWIs), where you typically have a constructed floating mat with vegetation planted directly into the material. The plants then grow on the island, rooting through the floating mat.

This illustration, created by Staff Scientist Ivy Babson, conveys the functionality of a Floating Wetland Island

This illustration, created by Staff Scientist Ivy Babson, conveys the functionality of a Floating Wetland Island

Not only do FWIs assimilate and remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water, they also provide habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms; help mitigate wave and wind erosion impacts; provide an aesthetic element; and can be part of a holistic lake/pond management strategy. Because of this, FWIs are being utilized to improve water quality and control HABs in lakes and ponds throughout the country. Princeton Hydro has designed and implemented numerous FWIs in waterbodies large and small. Go here to learn how they’re being used in Harveys Lake.

 

Recognizing and monitoring the changes that are taking place in our local waterways brings the problems of climate change, stormwater pollution and the resulting water quality issues closer to home, which can help raise awareness, inspire environmentally-minded action and promote positive, noticeable change.

If you spot what you believe to be a harmful algae bloom in your community lake, contact your local lake association right away. They, along with their lake management team, can assess the situation and determine what further actions need to be taken.

For more information about harmful algae blooms and water quality management, go here: http://bit.ly/pondlake.

Special thanks to Princeton Hydro Staff Scientist Ivy Babson for her contributions to this blog.

DIY: Protecting Water Quality in Your Community

There are lots of things we can do to preserve our precious water resources. Reducing stormwater pollution in our neighborhoods is something everyone can take part in. Storm drain cleaning is a great place to start!

DIY Storm Drain Cleaning

Urbanization has fundamentally altered the way that water moves through the landscape. Stormwater that doesn’t soak into the ground runs along streets and parking lots and picks up pollutants. Much of the pollution in our nation’s waterways comes from everyday materials like fertilizers, pesticides, motor oil, and household chemicals. Rainwater washes these substances from streets, yards and driveways into storm drains.

It’s a common misconception that storm drains lead to wastewater treatment plants. In actuality, storm drains rarely lead to treatment plants and instead stormwater systems carry untreated water directly to the nearest waterway. This polluted runoff can have negative impacts on water quality, overstimulate algal growth (both toxic and non-toxic), harm aquatic species and wildlife, and cause trash and debris to enter our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans.

https://www.middlesexcentre.on.ca/Public/Stormwater

We can all do our part to improve and preserve water resources in our community and beyond!

Keeping neighborhood storm drains cleaned is one simple step. Removing debris that collects in nearby stormwater catch basins, storm drains and along curbs promotes cleaner runoff, reduces the potential for flooding, and decreases the amount of pollution and trash entering our waterways.

Follow these simple steps for DIY storm drain cleaning:

  1. Photo: Santiago Mejia, The ChronicleRake/sweep and discard debris that has collected on top of the storm grate and in curbside rain gutters. Please note: If you notice a major blockage or issue with a storm drain, contact your local municipality immediately.
  2. Use a scrub brush or toilet bowl scrubber to remove debris that may be stuck to the storm grate.
  3. Adopt a storm drain(s) and maintain a regular cleaning schedule: Make a note on your calendar each quarter to clean and clear debris from storm drains nearby your home or workplace. And, make a habit of checking your storm drains after rainstorms when clogging is most common.
  4. Host a community clean-up day that includes trash pick-up, storm drain cleaning, and disseminating information on the impacts of stormwater runoff and what we can do to help.
  5. Consider contacting your local watershed association or municipality about getting drain markers installed on storm drains throughout the community. The markers act as a continued public reminder that anything dumped into a storm drain eventually ends up in our precious waterways downstream.

Remember: Small actions lead to big achievements in protecting water quality. 

REGISTER: Green Infrastructure Stormwater Management One-Day Course

REGISTRATION IS STILL OPEN FOR MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY’S GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE STORMWATER MANAGEMENT ONE-DAY CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSE BEING HELD ON SEPTEMBER 20, 2019 FROM 8 AM – 4 PM

Are you a consultant, planner, municipal representative, community leader, or project manager seeking to learn more about Green Stormwater Infrastructure & Management Techniques? This one-day course is for YOU!

Green infrastructure techniques have increasingly become the “go to” strategy to address flooding, water quality, and environmental impacts caused by stormwater runoff. Whether it be rain gardens or regional bioretention basins, infiltration basins or other large-scale bio engineered BMPs, green infrastructure is being implemented everywhere from suburban subdivisions to urban redevelopment sites. Unfortunately, while growing popular, these techniques are often misapplied, improperly constructed, or inadequately maintained.

This innovative one-day class focuses on the proper design and implementation of green infrastructure BMPs, as well as their special maintenance requirements. The course curriculum includes interactive presentations, case studies and project examples.

This year’s course will cover the following topics and more:

  • The Application and Advantages of Green Infrastructure Stormwater Management Techniques
  • Design and Construction of Infiltration Basins
  • Data Collection Needs: Soil, Geotechnical, and Groundwater Hydrology Data
    Design and Construction of Gravel Wetland Systems
  • Rain Garden Design and Application
  • Green Infrastructure Stormwater Options and Alternative Capping Techniques for Remediation Sites

Dr. Stephen Souza, Princeton Hydro Co-Founder and President of Clean Waters Consulting, LLC, is the faculty coordinator for the course, which also features a lecture by Princeton Hydro’s Green Infrastructure Practice Area Leader Dr. Clay Emerson, PE, CFM.

Course participants will also receive professional credits, including:

  • New Jersey LSRP CECs: 7 Technical CECs (NJ SRPLB Course # 2015-065);
  • New Jersey Professional Engineers: 7 CPCs;
  • New Jersey Board of Architects: 7 hours of CECs;
  • Certified Floodplain Managers: 6.5 CECs; and
  • NJ Public Health Continuing Education Contact Hours: 7 CEs.

Princeton Hydro is proud to partner with Montclair State University and take part in this valuable continuing professional education course. We hope to see you there!

Learn More & Register Today

Managing Urban Stormwater Runoff and Revitalizing Natural Habitat at Harveys Lake

Measuring 630+ acres, Harveys Lake, located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, just northeast of Wilkes-Barre, is the largest natural lake (by volume) within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is one of the most heavily used lakes in the area. It is classified as a high quality – cold water fishery habitat (HQ-CWF) and is designated for protection under the classification.

Since 2002, The Borough of Harveys Lake and the Harveys Lake Environmental Advisory Council  has worked with Princeton Hydro on a variety of lake management efforts focused around maintaining high water quality conditions, strengthening stream banks and shorelines, and managing stormwater runoff.

Successful, sustainable lake management requires identifying and correcting the cause of eutrophication as opposed to simply reacting to the symptoms of eutrophication (algae and weed growth). As such, we collect and analyze data to identify the problem sources and use these scientific findings to develop a customized management plan that includes a combination of biological, mechanical, and source control solutions. Here are some examples of the lake management strategies we’ve utilized for Harveys Lake:

 

Floating Wetland Islands

Floating Wetland Islands (FWIs) are an effective alternative to large, watershed-based natural wetlands. Often described as self-sustaining, FWIs provide numerous ecological benefits. They assimilate and remove excess nutrients, like nitrate and phosphorous, that could fuel algae growth; provide habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms; help mitigate wave and wind erosion impacts; and provide an aesthetic element. FWIs are also highly adaptable and can be sized, configured, and planted to fit the needs of nearly any lake, pond, or reservoir.

Five floating wetland islands were installed in Harveys Lake to assimilate and reduce nutrients already in the lake. The islands were placed in areas with high concentrations of nutrients, placed 50 feet from the shoreline and tethered in place with steel cables and anchored. A 250-square-foot FWI is estimated to remove up to 10 pounds of nutrients per year, which is significant when it comes to algae.

Princeton Hydro worked with the Harveys Lake Environmental Advisory Council and the Borough of Harveys Lake to obtain funding for the FWIs through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).

 

Streambank & Shoreline Stabilization

Harveys Creek

The shoreline habitat of Harveys Lake is minimal and unusual in that a paved road encompasses the lake along the shore with most of the homes and cottages located across the roadway, opposite the lake. In addition to the lake being located in a highly populated area, the limited shoreline area adds to the challenges created by urban stormwater runoff.

Runoff from urban lands and erosion of streambanks and shorelines delivers nutrients and sediment to Harveys Lake. High nutrient levels in the lake contribute to algal blooms and other water quality issues. In order to address these challenges, the project team implemented a number of small-scale streambank and inlet stabilization projects with big impacts.

The work included the stabilization of the streambank downstream for Harveys Lake dam and along Harveys Creek, the design and installation of a riparian buffer immediately along the lake’s shoreline, and selective dredging to remove sediment build up in critical areas throughout the watershed.

 

Invasive Species Management

Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), an aggressively growing aquatic plant, took root in the lake in 2014 and quickly infected 250 acres of the lake in a matter of three years. If left untreated, hydrilla will grow to the water’s surface and create a thick green mat, which prevents sunlight from reaching native plants, fish and other organisms below. The lack of sunlight chokes out all aquatic life.

In order to prevent hydrilla from spreading any further, Princeton Hydro and SePRO conducted an emergency treatment of the impacted area utilizing the systemic herbicide Sonar® (Fluridone), a clay-based herbicide. SonarOne, manufactured by SePRO, blocks hydrilla’s ability to produce chloroplasts, which in turn halts the photosynthetic process. The low-concentration herbicide does not harm fish, wildlife or people using the lake. Surveys conducted after the treatment showed it was working – the hydrilla had turned white and was dying off. Additional Sonar treatments followed and efforts to eradicate hydrilla in the lake continue.

Dr. Fred Lubnow, our Director of Aquatic Programs, estimates complete eradication of the aquatic plant could take around five years. Everyone can do their part in preventing the spread of this and other invasive species. Boaters and lake users must be vigilant and remove all vegetation from the bottom of watercrafts and trailers.

 

Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs)

In 2009, Princeton Hydro developed a stormwater implementation plan (SIP) for Harveys Lake. The goal of the stormwater/watershed-based efforts was to reduce the lake’s existing annual total phosphorus load to be in full compliance with the established Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This TMDL is related to watershed-based pollutant loads from total phosphorus (TP) and total suspended solids (TSS), which can contribute to algal blooms.

A number of structural urban runoff projects were implemented throughout the watershed. This includes the design and construction of two natural stream channel projects restoring 500 linear feet of tributaries and reducing the sediment and nutrient loads entering the lake. A series of 38 urban runoff BMPs, including nutrient separating devices and roadside infiltration, were installed in areas immediately adjacent to the lake to further reduce the loads of nutrients and other pollutants reaching the lake.

The photos below show a stormwater project that was completed in the Hemlock Gardens Section of the Watershed. Hemlock Gardens is a 28-acre section of land located in the southeastern portion of the watershed. It contains approximately 26 homes, has very steep slopes, unpaved dirt roads, and previously had no stormwater infrastructure in place.

Two structural stormwater BMPs were installed:

  • A nutrient separating baffle box, which utilizes a three-chamber basin with screens to collect leaf litter, grass clippings and trash
  • A water polishing unit that provides a platform for secondary runoff treatment

In 1994, Harveys Lake was identified as “impaired” by PADEP due to large algal blooms. In 2014, Harveys Lake was removed from the list of impaired waters. Project partners attribute the recovery of this lake to the stream restoration, urban runoff BMP implementation, and the use of in-lake nutrient reduction strategies.

The Harveys Lake Watershed Protection Plan Implementation Project proved that despite the lake being located in an urbanized watershed, it is possible to implement cost-effective green infrastructure and stormwater retrofit solutions capable of significantly decreasing pollutant loading to the lake.

To learn more about our lake and pond management services or schedule a consultation, visit: http://bit.ly/pondlake.

Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Utilities: Solutions to NJ’s Environmental Issues

Flooding, runoff, and storm surges, OH MY!

With increases in each of these occurring now, the imposition of green infrastructure and a stormwater utility fee are viable solutions to reducing their impacts. Plus, with the passing of the S-1073/A2694 bill in early 2019, the introduction of a stormwater utility became legal in New Jersey, making it the 41st state to do so.

On June 19, 2019, The Watershed Institute in Pennington, NJ held the “New Jersey Green Infrastructure & Stormwater Utilities Symposium” to address the environmental problems New Jersey faces and present solutions, including the stormwater utility. The event was geared for municipal officials, engineers, nonprofit leaders, and other interested parties, with an agenda full of expert speakers sharing insights and ideas on topics like the science of stormwater, New Jersey’s proposed stormwater rule changes, why green infrastructure and a stormwater utility fee matter, and possibilities for how to move New Jersey forward.

So, What is Green Infrastructure?

Brian Friedlich, the first presenter and a project manager for Kleinfelder, relayed that according to NJDEP, green infrastructure consists of “methods of stormwater management that reduce stormwater volume, flow, or characteristics by allowing the stormwater to infiltrate, be treated by vegetation or by soils, or be stored for use.” He also explained that green infrastructure can improve the environment and communities by providing community engagement, greening communities, addressing flooding, improving water quality by reducing CSOs, harvesting rainwater, increasing habitat for wildlife, and increasing property values.

After Brian’s presentation, a founding Principal of Princeton Hydro, Dr. Stephen Souza, now CEO of Clean Waters Consulting, urged that we should “turn down the volume,” when it comes to stormwater runoff. He explained that it is not enough to just manage peak flow of stormwater; we must also work to lower the volume of off-site stormwater discharge. So, how can you and your municipality do this? He offered six principles to designing successful green infrastructure projects:

  1. Treat stormwater as a resource
  2. Don’t make stormwater management an afterthought
  3. Attack the cause not the symptoms
  4. Turn your watershed inside out
  5. Think small to achieve big results
  6. Use nature as your model

Not only is successful implementation of green infrastructure important, but communal understanding of it may be more so. That is why Princeton Hydro partnered with New Jersey Future, Clark Caton Hintz, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, FZ Creative, and municipal stakeholders to launch the New Jersey Green Infrastructure Municipal Toolkit. Filled with helpful information about green infrastructure, this free resource is extremely useful for gaining communal understanding, getting started, implementing nature-based stormwater solutions, and sustaining your program.

What is Stormwater and Why Should Municipalities Require a Utility Fee for It?

Before we get into why it is imperative for New Jersey municipalities to implement a stormwater utility fee, it is important to understand just what stormwater is, what it does, and how it affects New Jersey residents.

The name is pretty intuitive: stormwater is the water that comes from precipitation, whether that be rain, snow, or ice melt. With increasing levels of water from climate change impacts (i.e. storm surge, increased rainfall, sea level rise), stormwater management has become an issue for states all across the U.S., whether it’s an over abundance or lack thereof.

So, what’s happening in New Jersey? The stormwater infrastructure that is currently in place (storm drains, sewer piping, etc.) is aging and unable to effectively handle the amount of runoff that has been flowing through the region in recent years. This is causing increased nutrient runoff and flooding all over the state. And, with increasing global temperatures, this trend is likely to continue.

To combat these issues, New Jersey passed the S-1073/A2694 bill in January 2019, authorizing counties and municipalities, either separately or in combination with other municipalities, to begin implementing a stormwater utility fee to New Jersey residents.

The law itself states:

“Every sewerage authority is hereby authorized to charge and collect rents, rates, fees, or other charges for direct or indirect use or services of its stormwater management system. The stormwater service charges may be charged to and collected from the owner or occupant, or both, of any real property. The owner of any real property shall be liable for and shall pay the stormwater service charges to the sewerage authority at the time when and place where these charges are due and payable. The rents, rates, fees, and charges shall be determined in a manner consistent with the stormwater utility guidance manual created by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to section 24 of P.L.

Any stormwater service charge imposed pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall be calculated in a manner consistent with the guidance provided in the stormwater utility guidance manual created by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to section 24 of P.L.”

Essentially, this fee charges a chosen type of property owner within a given municipality or region a certain amount of money for the impervious area (mainly artificial structures like asphalt, concrete, stone, rooftops, etc. that water can’t seep through) they have on their property. Just how much that fee is and whether or not there’s a limit on the chargeable impermeable area are dependent on the government agency.

Since the impervious area blocks water from seeping into the ground, it becomes runoff and ends up in the stormwater drain. And, since New Jersey’s systems are growing old and less efficient, it makes sense to implement a fee for their use. Historically, general taxpayer dollars or legislative appropriations have been used to fund updates to aging infrastructure. Implementing a utility fee will create a consistent funding source to update and expand the current aging infrastructure so that flooding will occur less.

Other states, like neighboring Pennsylvania, have been proactive in addressing these impacts by implementing a stormwater utility fee. And, in Maryland, the state implemented a watershed restoration program and MS4 efforts that require stormwater utility fees. These initiatives have generated a job-creating industry boom that benefits engineers, contractors, and local DPWs. At the same time, Maryland’s program is improving the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, and stimulating the tourism and the crabbing/fishing industry.

In relation to how urban cities are affected by stormwater, John Miller, the FEMA Mitigation Liaison, shared this helpful resource, “The Growing Threat of Urban Flooding: A National Challenge” during the symposium. It addresses the extent and consequences of urban flooding in the U.S., while exploring actions that can be taken to mitigate future flooding. Amongst other recommendations made, the research group encouraged Congress and state officials to “develop appropriate mechanisms at the federal, state, and local level to fund necessary repairs, operations, and upgrades of current stormwater and urban flood-related infrastructure.”

A stormwater utility should not only be reviewed in the context of cost, since it meets all three elements of a triple-bottom line: social, environmental, and financial. Other considerations are the fact that allowing stormwater utilities in New Jersey will create jobs, help reduce flood impacts, enhance water quality, improve our fisheries, and preserve our water-based tourism economy.

When it comes to green infrastructure, Princeton Hydro has been a leader in innovative, cost-effective, and environmentally sound stormwater management systems since its inception. Long before the term “green infrastructure” was part of the design community’s lexicon, the firm’s engineers were integrating nature-based stormwater management systems to fulfill such diverse objectives as flood control, water quality protection, and pollutant load reduction. And, Princeton Hydro has developed regional nonpoint source pollutant budgets for over 100 waterways. The preparation of stormwater management plans and design of stormwater management systems for pollutant reduction is an integral part of many of the firm’s projects. So, we are major proponents of implementing stormwater utilities and green infrastructure into our everyday lives.

Do you have questions regarding green infrastructure or stormwater utilities? Contact us here.