Recent Raritan Headwaters Association Stream Cleanup, some of the Drake's Brook crew.
Here's an article I had published in my Recorder Newspapers column earlier this year. Thought it appropriate to post after the recent stream cleanup.
Raritan Headwaters Association State of Our Watershed Conference
“Without an incredible cadre of volunteers, this program doesn’t work,” said Bill Kibler, Director of Policy and Science, Raritan Headwaters Association. He referred to the Stream Monitoring Program, an ongoing 20-year effort as of 2014. Originally carried out separately by South Branch Watershed Association and Upper Raritan Watershed Association, the two organizations merged in 2011 as Raritan Headwaters Association. The metrics for river health are based on collected macroinvertebrates. This surprised me while attending the State of Our Watershed Conference December 6, 2014 at Gill St. Bernard’s School, Gladstone. Chemical assessment of water samples isn’t the procedure.
Aquatic insect species are sensitive to pollution. Benthic organisms are bottom dwelling, and macroinvertebrates of this description may include various kinds of worms and crustaceans, but the presence—or lack—of three families of insects determine water quality by a complicated calculation. Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies) and Trichoptera (caddisflies) are designated together as EPT, the signifying benthic macroinvertebrates sensitive to pollution. If a variety of EPT larvae are present in a stream sample, water quality is non-impaired.
Between June 15th and June 30th each year, volunteers use dip nets. Procedures have varied slightly over the years, but each of 56 sites sampled one riffle apiece in 2014. In addition to the North and South branches of the Raritan, tributary and headwaters samples create a vision of the whole watershed. South Branch headwaters and tributaries tested include Ledgewood Brook, Drake’s Brook, Flanders Brook, Mulhockaway Creek, Beaver Brook, Neshanic River, Back Brook, Pleasant Run and Holland Brook. In relation to the North Branch: Burnett Brook, Peapack Brook, Black River, Tanners Brook, Herzog Brook, Cold Brook, Rockaway Creek (confluence with Lamington River and North Branch Raritan in turn) and Chambers Brook. 71.9% of the 56 sites scored non-impaired, 26.3% moderately impaired. No scores indicated severe impairment to sound alarm, although Ledgewood Brook’s moderately impaired status raises particular concern.
Angela Gorczyca, Water Quality Program Manager, pointed out that with recent activity at Fennimore Landfill upstream of the testing site in Roxbury Township, Ledgewood Brook’s score has fallen. “We did find that in 2007 the DEP collected data. They found that this stream was non-impaired,” she said. “Headwaters streams are usually perfect scores.”
All testing sites are rated from 0-30. Drake’s Brook Site 1 tested perfect at 30, most other sites above 24. Scores fall off below this number to moderately impaired levels. By contrast to the Drake’s Brook site downstream, the Ledgewood Brook site scored 18.
Another place of concern was a North Branch Raritan River site behind the ball fields at Miller Lane. “There really was a loss of balance in the invertebrate community. 60% was just scuds,” said Gorczyca. Scuds are small freshwater shrimp resistant to pollution. The site scored an uninspiring 12.
Gorczyca mentioned the Mine brook tributary just upstream as a possible source of trouble. “We’re going to be monitoring the Mine Brook,” she said. Referring to a computer projected map, she pointed out a “sharp contrast between North and South branches.” Non-impaired sites appeared as blue dots on the map, while moderately impaired appeared in yellow. Only one of five North Branch sites scored unimpaired at 27, site 3 well above Ravine Lake in Bernards and downstream of the little tributary from private Pleasant Valley Lake. Here the highest diversity of caddis and mayfly collected in the net, but fewer stoneflies. A site further upstream, yet below the India Brook confluence, scored 21.
The South Branch, on the other hand, showed blue dots all the way down into Hillsborough
Township, 17 of 18 sites non-impaired, the only exception a new site in close proximity to Budd Lake.
Stream monitoring is a precise practice with the intent to identify the source and severity of any impairment, observe water quality trends due to land use changes, see the impacts of development and associated remediation projects as well as gauge any further restoration efforts. Our Upper Raritan watershed gets this attention not only because testing may be an indication for groundwater issues pertaining to drinking water, nor only because some people care about the fishery, but because people care about rivers. To the planet as a whole, they’re like the arteries and veins in our bodies, and without them, the planet could no longer sustain life. Yet deeper value than practical is at stake; if life has any meaning, purpose flows to an end. Rivers make us happy, whether we fish, swim or just sit by them.
Raritan Headwaters Association needs volunteers. Just access their website and sign on to enjoy an interesting time monitoring a flow in June.