July is Lakes Appreciation Month – a great time of year to enjoy your community lakes and help protect them.
Lakes Appreciation Month was started by North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) to help bring attention to the countless benefits that lakes provide, to raise awareness of the many challenges facing our waterways, and to encourage people to get involved in protecting these precious resources.
“You work and play on them. You drink from them. But do you really appreciate them? Growing population, development, and invasive species stress your local lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. All life needs water; let’s not take it for granted!” – NALMS
We’ve put together six tips to help you celebrate Lakes Appreciation Month and get involved in protecting your favorite lakes:
1. Join the “Secchi Dip-In” contest
The “Secchi Dip-In” is an annual citizen science event where lake-goers and associations across North America use a simple Secchi disk to monitor the transparency or turbidity of their local waterway. Created and managed by NALMS, volunteers have been submitting information during the annual Dip-In since 1994. Get all the Dip-In details here.
2. Monitor and report algae blooms
With the BloomWatch App, you can help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency understand where and when potential harmful algae blooms (HABs) occur. HABs have the potential to produce toxins that can have serious negative impacts on the health of humans, pets, and our ecosystems. Click here to learn more and download the app here. For more information on HABs, check out our recent blog.
3. Commit to keeping your lake clean
Commit to keeping your lake clean: Volunteers play a major role in maintaining the health and safety of community waterways. If you’re interested in helping to conserve and protect your water resources, you can start by cleaning up trash. Choose a waterbody in your community; determine a regular clean-up schedule; and stick to it! Cleaning your neighborhood storm drains really helps too; click here to find out how.
4. support your local lake
You can help support your favorite lake by joining or donating to a lake or watershed association. As an organized, collective group, lake associations work toward identifying and implementing strategies to protect water quality and ecological integrity. Lake associations monitor the condition of the lake, develop lake management plans, provide education about how to protect the lake, work with the government entities to improve fish habitat, and much more.
5. Get outside and enjoy (safely)
There are countless ways to enjoy and appreciate your community lakes. During Lakes Appreciation month, take photos that illustrate how you appreciate your community lakes, share them on social media using the hashtag: #LakesAppreciation, and hopefully you’ll inspire others to show their Lake Appreciation too.
6. ENTER the Lakes Appreciation Challenge
NALMS invites you to participate in its social media photo contest, titled “Show Your Lakes Appreciation Challenge.” To participate: Take a picture of yourself or someone you know enjoying or working on a lake or reservoir during July. And, upload the photo to Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter using a descriptive caption and the #LakesAppreciation hashtag. Three winners will be determined via a raffle and announced via social media on Monday, August 3rd. Learn more.
To ensure you’re staying safe while participating in Lakes Appreciation Month and all outdoor activities, please be sure to follow local regulations and the CDC’s recommended COVID-19 guidelines.
To learn more about NALMS and get more ideas on how to celebrate your local lakes, go here: https://www.nalms.org. If you’re interested in learning more about Princeton Hydro’s broad range of award-winning lake management services, go here: http://bit.ly/pondlake.
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.
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:
Treating stormwater runoff through infiltration into subsoil;
Treating stormwater runoff through filtration by vegetation or soil; or
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:
The disturbance of one or more acres of land since February 2, 2004;
The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated impervious surface” since February 2, 2004;
The creation of one-quarter acre or more of “regulated motor vehicle surface” since March 2,2021; or
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.
To prevent harmful algal blooms (HABs) in New Jersey’s largest lake, a clay-based nutrient inactivating technology called Phoslock, is being applied in Lake Hopatcong this week. This is the largest Phoslock treatment to occur in the Northeastern U.S. The Phoslock treatment, which is happening in the southern end of the lake called Landing Channel, is expected to take approximately one week depending on the weather conditions.
Over the course of the 2019 summer season, Lake Hopatcong suffered from large-scale and persistent HABs causing local and county health agencies to close off all beaches and issue advisories over large sections of the lake. These unprecedented conditions had significant negative impacts on the ecological, recreational, and economic resources of the lake and region. In order to combat HABs in this upcoming 2020 summer season, the Lake Hopatcong Commission has partnered with the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, four municipalities (Jefferson, Hopatcong, Mt. Arlington, and Roxbury), two counties (Morris and Sussex), and their environmental consultant, Princeton Hydro, to develop both short- and long-term lake management strategies.
“The negative effects of HABs in our lake last year were numerous, widespread, and in some cases devastating,” recalled Donna Macalle-Holly of Lake Hopatcong Foundation. “It is imperative for every stakeholder to pool our resources to keep it from happening again. Collaboration is the only way to protect public health, as well as the health of New Jersey’s largest lake.”
In an effort to evaluate a variety of innovative in-lake and watershed-based measures to prevent, mitigate, and/or control harmful algal blooms in Lake Hopatcong, the Lake Hopatcong Commission was awarded a $500k grant as part of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) new $13.5M initiative to reduce and prevent future harmful algal blooms in New Jersey. In addition to the $500k grant, the aforementioned local government and nonprofit stakeholders provided $330k in matching funds to implement and evaluate a variety of ways to address HABs in Lake Hopatcong.
“Our lake community cannot sustain another year like 2019,” said Lake Hopatcong Commission Chairman Ron Smith. “Since the news of our grant award in early March, we have been working with our partners to make sure the projects are implemented in time for the 2020 season.”
This week, the water resource engineering and natural resource management firm, Princeton Hydro—a lake management consultant to Lake Hopatcong for over two decades—is implementing the first and largest innovative measure as part of the NJDEP HABs grant-funded project. This involves treating 50 acres of the southern end of the lake with Phoslock, a clay-based product that inactivates phosphorus in both the water column and the sediments, making this critical nutrient unavailable for algal growth. The Phoslock treatment, which requires proper permitting by NJDEP, is applied as a slurry and will be distributed from a boat. The slurry will temporarily make the water appear turbid, but should disperse approximately two to six hours after each treatment.
“We are expecting the Phoslock treatment to limit the growth of algae and therefore reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms in the lake this summer, keeping it open for recreation and business,” said Dr. Fred Lubnow, Director of Aquatic Resources at Princeton Hydro and leading HABs expert. “If this technology is deemed successful and cost-effective in Lake Hopatcong, we could set the precedent for large-scale HABs prevention in other lakes throughout New Jersey, and even across the nation.”
Developed by the Australian national science agency CSIRO, Phoslock is frequently used to strip the water column of dissolved phosphorus, as well as to inactivate phosphorus generated from deep, anoxic sediments. Recently, at a smaller scale, it has been shown to inactivate the mobilization of phosphorus from shallow sediments where there is a mobilization of phosphorus from both chemical and biological processes.
Algae uses phosphate, the biologically available form of phosphorus, as a food source to grow. When there is an excessive amount of phosphorus in a lake, algal growth can be dense and can negatively affect water quality. This excessive plant growth, caused by eutrophication, can both cause a lack of oxygen available, leading to fish kills, as well as produce harmful algal blooms with cyanotoxins, which are harmful to humans and pets.
After Phoslock is applied, it sinks through the water column, binding phosphate as it moves towards the sediment. Once settled at the bottom of the lake, it forms a very thin layer and continues to bind phosphate released from the sediment, thus controlling the release of phosphorus into the lake. One pound of phosphorus has the potential to generate up to 1,100 lbs of wet algae biomass. However, 1.1 tons of Phoslock is capable of removing 24 pounds of phosphorus — that’s over 26,000 lbs of wet algae biomass not growing in the lake for every 1.1 ton of Phoslock applied. In turn, Phoslock’s ability to suspend biologically available phosphorus is therefore a major step towards improving a lake’s water quality.
As part of the NJDEP HABs grant funding, the stakeholder group will be evaluating the relative effectiveness of this treatment strategy. Because of its shallow depth and separation from the main lake, the Landing Channel area was a good candidate for evaluation of this technology. Princeton Hydro will conduct pre- and post-treatment monitoring of the Phoslock treatment area in order to conduct an objective evaluation of the cost effectiveness of the treatment as a means of preventing the development and/or mitigation of HABs. If the study indicates that Phoslock is a cost-effective treatment, the Lake Hopatcong Commission may consider additional trials in other sections of the lake, if funding is available.
To learn more about HABs, check out our recent blog:
Hydrology is the study of the properties, distribution, and effects of water on the Earth’s surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere. The hydrologic cycle includes all of the ways in which water cycles from land to the atmosphere and back. Hydrologists study natural water-related events such as drought, rainfall, stormwater runoff, and floods, as well as how to predict and manage such events. On the application side, hydrology provides basic laws, equations, algorithms, procedures, and modeling of these events.
Hydraulics is the study of the mechanical behavior of water in physical systems. In engineering terms, hydraulics is the analysis of how surface and subsurface waters move from one point to the next, such as calculating the depth of flow in a pipe or open channel. Hydraulic analysis is used to evaluate flow in rivers, streams, stormwater management networks, sewers, and much more.
Combined hydrologic and hydraulic data, tools, and models are used for analyzing the impacts that waterflow – precipitation, stormwater, floods, and severe storms – will have on the existing infrastructure. This information is also used to make future land-use decisions and improvements that will work within the constraints of the hydrologic cycle and won’t exacerbate flooding or cause water quality impairment.
Simply put, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling is an essential component of any effective flood risk management plan.
Putting Hydrologic & Hydraulic Analysis to Work in Philadelphia
Eastwick, a low-lying urbanized neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia, is located in the Schuylkill River Watershed and is almost completely surrounded by water: The Cobbs and Darby creeks to the west, the Delaware River and wetlands to the south, and the Schuylkill River and Mingo Creek to the east. The community is at continual risk of both riverine and coastal flooding, and faces an uncertain future due to sea level rise and riverine flooding exacerbated by climate change.
Princeton Hydro, along with project partners KeystoneConservation and University of Pennsylvania, conducted an analysis of Eastwick, the flood impacts created by the Lower Darby Creek, and the viability of several potential flood mitigation strategies.
Flood mitigation approaches can be structural and nonstructural. Structural mitigation techniques focus on reconstructing landscapes, including building floodwalls/seawalls and installing floodgates/levees. Nonstructural measures work to reduce damage by removing people and property out of risk areas, including zoning, elevating structures, and conducting property buyouts.
For Eastwick, studying stream dynamics is a key component to determining what type of flood mitigation strategies will yield the most success, as well as identifying the approaches that don’t work for this unique area.
Princeton Hydro’s study focused on the key problem areas in Eastwick: the confluence of Darby Creek and Cobbs Creek; a constriction at Hook Road and 84th Street; and the Clearview Landfill, which is part of the Lower Darby Creek Superfund site. Additionally, the study sought to answer questions commonly asked by community members related to flooding conditions, with the main question being: What impact does the landfill have on area flooding?
The built-up landfill is actually much higher than the stream bed, which creates a major disconnection between the floodplain and the stream channel. If the landfill didn’t exist, would the community still be at risk? If we increased the floodplain into the landfill, would that reduce neighborhood flooding?
This is an example of a 2D model showing where the water is originating, how the water flows through the neighborhood, moves to the lower elevations, and eventually sits.
The models used 2D animation to show how the water flows in various scenarios, putting long-held assumptions to the test.
The models looked at several different strategies, including the complete removal of the Clearview Landfill, which many people anticipated would be the silver bullet to the area’s flooding. The modeling revealed, however, that those long-held assumptions were invalid. Although the landfill removal completely alters the flood dynamics, the neighborhood would still flood even if the landfill weren’t there. Additionally, the modeling showed that the landfill is actually acting as a levee for a large portion of the Eastwick community.
This model was developed to illustrate how the removal of the landfill impacts waterflow through the Eastwick community.
Ultimately, the research and modeling helped conclude that for the specific scenarios we studied, altering stream dynamics – a non-structural measure – is not a viable flood mitigation strategy.
The USACE is currently undergoing a study in collaboration with the Philadelphia Water Department to test the feasibility of a levee system (a structural control measure), which would protect the Eastwick community by diverting the flood water. Funding for the study is expected to be approved in the coming year.
Take a Deeper Look at Eastwick Flood Mitigation Efforts
There are many studies highlighting flood mitigation strategies, environmental justice, and climate change vulnerability in Eastwick. Princeton Hydro Senior Project Manager and Senior Ecologist, Christiana Pollack CFM, GISP, presented on the flooding in Eastwick at the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast Seminar held at Drexel University. The seminar also featured presentations from Michael Nairn of the University of Pennsylvania Urban Studies Department, Ashley DiCaro of Interface Studios, and Dr. Philip Orton of Stevens Institute of Technology.
You can watch the full seminar here:
For more information about Princeton Hydro’s flood management services, go here: http://bit.ly/PHfloodplain.
Last summer, 39 of New Jersey’s lakes were plagued with toxic algae outbreaks, also known as harmful algae blooms or HABs, causing major water quality degradation, beach closures and health advisories. In response, the NJDEP implemented a unified statewide approach to addressing HABs in freshwater recreational waters and sources of drinking water, and protecting the public from risks associated with exposure to cyanobacteria.
Last week, NJDEP announced a new component to its statewide Cyanobacterial HAB Response Strategy: a color-coded health alert index that provides precise recreational use recommendations for impacted waterbodies based on levels of cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxins present. The index has six tiers – NONE, WATCH, ALERT, ADVISORY, WARNING, and DANGER – each providing recommendations on the specific activities that should or should not be pursued based on water monitoring results.
“Princeton Hydro is proud to be one of the contributing factors in the development of the Updated Guidance for HABs,” said said Dr. Fred Lubnow, Director of Aquatic Resources for Princeton Hydro. “We feel this updated protocol will provide the necessary and objective information for State and local organizations to make informed and rational decisions, based on sound and scientifically-based data, on how to deal with HABs in a recreational setting.“
Princeton Hydro and Clean Water Consulting are the technical advisers for the New Jersey Lake Group, who have met a number of times over the last 8 to 9 months to discuss the State’s guidance on dealing with HABs. In late 2019, on behalf of the New Jersey Lake Group, Princeton Hydro and Clean Water Consulting developed a White Paper providing recommended changes for consideration to NJDEP’s Recreational Response Strategy to HABs.
“I’m proud to say that many of the provided recommendations were integrated into NJDEP’s Updated Guidance for HABs,” explained Dr. Lubnow.
WATCH (Suspected or confirmed HAB with potential for allergenic and irritative health effects) This warning will be posted when HAB cell counts exceed 20,000. In this scenario, public beaches remain open, but the index instructs the public to use caution, provides information on the potential less serious health effects, and allows for more informed decision-making.
ALERT (Confirmed HAB that requires greater observation due to increasing potential for toxin production) This warning indicates a public bathing beach closure only and is posted when a HAB has been confirmed with cell counts between 40,000 and 80,000 and no known toxins above the public threshold. Beaches remain open (dependent upon local health authority) and monitoring for future toxin production should be increased.
ADVISORY (Confirmed HAB with moderate risk of adverse health effects and increased potential for toxins above public health thresholds) Signs will be posted for this warning level when cell counts exceed 80,000 or when toxin levels exceed 3 micrograms per milliliter of microcystins. Public bathing beaches will be closed, but the waterbody will remain accessible to some “secondary contact” activities, like boating.
WARNING and DANGER (Confirmed HAB with high risk of adverse health effects due to high toxin levels) and (Confirmed HAB with very high risk of adverse health effects due to high toxin levels) These tiers are designed to alert the public to the presence of HABs that are producing very high levels of toxins which justify additional caution. In some instances, the entire waterbody may be closed for all public use. New Jersey has experienced approximately 12 “warning level” HAB events over the last 3 years; monitoring has never indicated a “danger level” HAB event.
According to their press release, NJDEP is committed to working with local officials to implement the index and get signage posted at lakes throughout the state as soon as possible.
In order to create the health index, NJDEP scientists carefully reviewed HABs data collected over the last three years by Lake Hopatcong Commission, Lake Hopatcong Foundation, Princeton Hydro, and other sources. The tiered warning system will enable lake communities, residents and visitors to make more individualized decisions about what risks they are willing to take and what activities they feel comfortable engaging in at the various levels of HABs.
In the coming days, the NJDEP’s Harmful Algal Bloom website will be updated to include the new health index and accompanying signage, relevant monitoring data, and other information for each of the impacted bodies of water, as well as an updated HAB Monitoring and Response Strategy. For now, you can read the full press release and additional information here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2020/20_0023.htm.
To learn more about HABs, check out our recent blog:
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
Non-native Phragmites australis, also known as Common Reed, is a species of perennial grass found across North America, especially along the Atlantic coast, in wetlands, riparian areas, shorelines, and other wet areas like roadside ditches and drainage basins. This aggressively invasive grass can grow up to 20 feet tall, in dense groupings, and tends to spread rapidly, quickly colonizing disturbed wetlands.
Once established, the invasive plant forms a monoculture with a dense mat, outcompeting native vegetation, lowering the local plant biodiversity, and displacing native animals. These landscape changes impair the natural function of the marsh ecosystem by altering its elevations and tidal reach. A higher, drier marsh leads to less vigorous growth of native salt marsh vegetation, allowing Phragmites australis to gain a stronger foothold and continue to take over.
Phragmites australis can also eliminate small, intertidal channels and obliterate pool habitat that offers natural refuge and feeding grounds for invertebrates, fish, and birds. The spread of invasive Phragmites australis also has negative impacts on land aesthetics and outdoor recreation by obscuring views and restricting access. And, each Fall, when Phragmitesaustralis die off, the large concentrations of dry vegetation increase the risk of fast-spreading fires near highly populated residential and commercial areas.
Over the last century, there has been a dramatic increase in the spread of Phragmites australis, partly due to an increase in residential and commercial development that resulted in disturbances to wetlands. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rapid spread of Phragmites australis in the 20th century can also be attributed to the construction of railroads and major roadways, habitat disturbance, shoreline development, pollution, and eutrophication.
Princeton Hydro has worked in areas throughout the East Coast to address and properly manage Phragmites australis in order to restore natural habitats and enhance plant diversity, wildlife habitat, and water quality. Two recent projects include the restoration of John A. Roebling Memorial Park in Hamilton and Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
John A. Roebling Memorial Park
Mercer County’s John A. Roebling Memorial Park is home to the northernmost freshwater tidal marsh on the Delaware River, the Abbott Marshlands, an area containing valuable habitat for many rare species. Unfortunately, the area experienced a significant amount of loss and degradation, partially due to the introduction of the invasive Phragmites australis.
For Mercer County Park Commission, Princeton Hydro put together a plan to reduce and control the Phragmites australis, in order to increase biodiversity, improve recreational opportunities, and enhance visitor experience at the park. This stewardship project replaced the Phragmites australis with native species in order to reduce its ability to recolonize the marsh.
By Spring of this year, the team expects to see native species dominating the landscape from the newly exposed native seed bank with minimal Phragmites australis growth.
Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area
The Pin Oak Forest Conservation Area is a 97-acre tract of open space that contains an extremely valuable wetland complex at the headwaters of Woodbridge Creek. The site is located in a heavily developed landscape of northern New Jersey. As such, the area suffered from wetland and stream channel degradation, habitat fragmentation, ecological impairment, and decreased biodiversity due to invasive species, including Phragmites australis.
The site was viewed as one of only a few large-scale freshwater wetland restoration opportunities remaining in this highly developed region of New Jersey. A dynamic partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, was formed to restore the natural function of the wetlands complex, transform the Pin Oak Forest site into thriving habitat teeming with wildlife, and steward this property back to life.
This award-winning restoration project converted over 30 acres of degraded freshwater wetlands, streams and disturbed uplands dominated by invasive species into a species-rich and highly functional headwater wetland complex. The resulting ecosystem provides valuable habitat for wildlife including the state-threatened Black-crowned Night-heron and Red-headed Woodpecker. Biodiversity was also increased through invasive species management, which allowed establishment of native plants such as pin oak, swamp white oak, marsh hibiscus, and swamp rose. The restored headwater wetland system provides stormwater management, floodplain storage, enhanced groundwater recharge onsite, and surface water flows to Woodbridge Creek, as well as public hiking trails, all benefiting the town of Woodbridge.
Managing and Monitoring Phragmites
Scientific field research continues to be conducted in order to identify the best way(s) to manage and control the spread of Phragmites australis. Depending on the landscape and how established the Phragmites australis population is, there are several different methods that can be effective in reducing Phragmites australis infestations in order to allow for the regeneration of native wetland plant communities and protect fish and wildlife habitat.
Recently, a group of more than 280 scientists, resource managers and policy professionals gathered together at the Hudson River Estuary Program’s (HEP) annual conference to explore how natural and nature-based solutions (i.e. building living shorelines, enhancing tidal wetlands and stream corridors, and conserving vulnerable floodplains) can be used as critical tools for addressing the impacts of climate change while also protecting and enhancing critical habitat.
The conference included six interactive workshops and dynamic panel discussions. Christiana Pollack, GISP, CFM of Princeton Hydro, Terry Doss of New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Kip Stein from New York City Parks, and Judith Weis of Rutgers lead a panel discussion, moderated by Lisa Baron from U.S. Army Corps Engineers, on “The Yin and Yang of Estuarine Phragmites Management” to share lessons learned over many years of combating invasive species, including how sea level rise is changing minds and techniques.
Together, representing decades of experience in Phragmites australis management and research, these experts presented the evolving nature of restoration for this habitat type, common control/management methodologies, and longterm management and monitoring strategies for this reed and other invasive species. During the panel discussion, Christiana made specific mention of the Roebling Park project as one example of successful strategies in action.
If you’re interested in learning more and seeing photos from a few recent Phragmites australis management projects, click below for a free download of Christiana’s full presentation.
Last year, there were more than 70 suspected and 39 confirmed Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in New Jersey, which is significantly higher than the previous two years. New Jersey wasn’t the only state impacted by HABs. The increase caused severe impacts on lakes throughout the country, resulting in beach closures, restricting access to lake usage, and prompting wide-ranging health advisories.
In November, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced a three-pronged, $13 million initiative to reduce and prevent future HABs in the state. As part of the initiative, NJDEP hosted its first regional HABs Summit with the goal of prevention by improving communication throughout lake communities and sharing information ahead of the warmer months when HABs begin to appear.
The summit, which was held on January 28, 2020 at NJDEP’s Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center in Warren County included a Q&A panel discussion, information resource tables for one-on-one discussions, and presentations from a variety of NJDEP representatives and environmental experts. Princeton Hydro’s Director of Aquatics and regional HABs expert Dr. Fred Lubnow’s presentation focused on how to properly and effectively manage HABs.
According to Dr. Lubnow, “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.”
In a recent press release from Governor Murphy’s office, the NJDEP Chief of Staff Shawn LaTourette said, “We will reduce HABs by working closely with our local partners on prevention and treatment techniques, while relying on the best available science to clearly communicate risk to the public. Our new HABs initiative will enhance the Department’s ability to evaluate statewide strategies and increase the capacity of lake communities to reduce future blooms.”
More than $13 million in funding will be available to local communities to assist in preventing HABs, including:
$2.5 million will be available as matching funds for lakes and HABs management grants, including treatment and prevention demonstration projects.
Up to $1 million in Watershed Grant funding will be made available for planning and projects that reduce the nonpoint source pollution, including nutrients, that contribute to HABs in surface waters of the State.
$10 million in principal forgiveness grants will be offered through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for half of the cost, capped at $2 million, of sewer and stormwater upgrades to reduce the flow of nutrients to affected waterbodies.
Per the Governor’s press release, “the second element of the initiative is to build upon the state’s scientific expertise and enhance its capacity to respond to HAB events. This includes establishing a team of experts from across various sectors to evaluate the state’s strategies to prevent HABs and pursuing additional monitoring, testing and data management capacity.”
Connecting with Communities:
The third component is focused on increasing NJDEP’s ability to communicate with affected communities. The regional HABs Summit held on January 28 was one of two Summits that will occur in early 2020 (the date of the next Summit has not yet been announced). NJDEP has also developed new web tools to provide HABs education, offer a forum to discuss and report potential HAB sightings, and better communicate HAB incidents.
To learn more about New Jersey’s new HABs Initiative, click here. To learn more about HABs, check out our recent blog:
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.
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.
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.