Since 1998, and in conjunction with the Ten Towns Great Swamp Watershed Management Committee, Stream Team volunteers have been monitoring the water quality and quantity of the five watershed streams.
A primary goal of the stream monitoring program is to measure the volume of water, nutrients and sediments flowing into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The nutrients of concern, nitrogen and phosphorus, are necessary for plant growth. However, when large quantities of these nutrients are introduced into a water system, they become pollutants because they can contribute to excessive plant growth, referred to as eutrophication. When these plants die off, they use up much of the available oxygen which, in turn, can lead to fish kills. Together with increased sediment deposition (a result of stormwater runoff), eutrophication accelerates the filling-in of the small ponds and wetlands within the Refuge, damaging the swamp’s resident flora and fauna and ultimately altering the larger ecosystem in which they live.
Additional study by professors and students from Drew University, the College of St. Elizabeth, and Fairleigh Dickinson University augments the Stream Team’s efforts and contributes to the larger picture of the Great Swamp Watershed’s stream health. Dr. Lee Pollock (a now-retired Drew University professor) is studying the number and variety of the small invertebrate creatures that live under the rocks and in the sandy bottoms of each stream. These creatures, called macro-invertebrates (or MIVs), are excellent indicators of the water quality of a stream (standards). Dr. Robin Timmons, also of Drew University, provides statistical analyses of our stream monitoring results and archives all the data. Dr. Neil Borman along with students from the College of St. Elizabeth measured levels of E. coli bacteria along Loantaka Brook, including Kitchell Pond. Additionally, Dr. Paul Benzing, formerly of Fairleigh Dickinson University, studied the role Kitchell Pond plays in storing and releasing phosphorus.
Visual Stream Assessments
In June 2004, the GSWA initiated a visual stream assessment program. The main purpose of this program is to help gather data for the Watershed Association and the State on waterbodies that are not currently being assessed by the NJDEP. The NJDEP simply does not have the manpower to keep watch over every mile of every stream in New Jersey (over 18,000 miles!). Teams of at least two people conduct visual assessments of 1/4-mile reaches of streams in the watershed by completing forms using a protocol provided by the NJDEP. During the assessment, both general and specific information about the stream reach and surrounding watershed is recorded (i.e. stream width and depth, bank stability, riparian vegetation, and surrounding land use). Assessments are conducted two times per year and training is provided through the GSWA. Completed forms are reviewed by the GSWA Director of Water Quality Programs and are then submitted to the NJDEP through their online database management system, E2.
All of this data helps to generate a picture of the overall health of our streams, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and our environment in general. This evolving source of information can be of great use to homeowners and local environmental commissions and planning boards charged with managing the impacts of development and urban sprawl.
In October 2008, The Watershed Institute announced that they would be awarding GSWA a $12,960 grant to develop a management/restoration plan for the Silver Brook watershed. Once the funds were received, GSWA hired AKRF, Inc., an environmental consulting firm specializing in this type of work, to draft the plan. The project involved a formal evaluation of the Silver Brook watershed (a headwaters system of the larger Great Brook watershed) to determine the sources and nature of adverse stream conditions. Both desktop and field assessments were conducted by AKRF as well as GSWA Staff and volunteers. Upon completion of the full evaluation, AKRF identified nine high-priority restoration projects for the Silver Brook and its tributary streams. Projects described in the Plan have estimated costs ranging from $25,000 to $1,340,000. Plans are now underway to secure funding necessary to implement some of these projects.
Other restoration efforts include the coordination of stream cleanup events. An annual cleanup is conducted each spring during National River Cleanup Week (sponsored by American Rivers). The event aims to raise public awareness of the magnitude of trash accumulating in our nation’s waterways. Organized stream cleanup events are a tremendous help to GSWA’s efforts to improve the water quality of the region’s streams.