Hard Surfaces Hurt Clean River Efforts

October 21, 2017
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The Navesink River

By John Burton |

RED BANK — Paved roadways, parking lots and roofs, for the most part, are not the Navesink River’s friends. Storm water runoff carries all sorts of contaminates into the sewers and eventually the waterways but Red Bank is looking for ways to curtail this pollution.

Borough Councilman Erik Yngstrom has reached out to Rutgers University to undertake a study to look at ways to address the contaminates that are the byproduct of impervious surfaces.

When Yngstrom found out about a project orchestrated by the university’s Cooperative Extension Water Resource Program, he knew it would be appropriate for Red Bank. “I thought this is something that we really need for our town and let’s see what we can do going forward to help with our storm water runoff,” he said.

At a recent Rally for the Navesink event conducted by the environmental group Clean Ocean Action, intended to draw attention to the ongoing efforts to combat pollution, Yngstrom was introduced to Christopher Obropta, a Rutgers environmental science professor and extension specialist for the university’s Water Resource Program. Obropta and his team, which includes paid student interns and a paid staff, had conducted studies for Tinton Falls and Fair Haven, Obropta said, detailing ways to cut down on direct storm water runoff and the contaminants it carries.

He explained how hard surfaces don’t allow water to seep into the ground, which can act as a natural filter.

Storm water management was never much of a concern in planning and zoning matters, until relatively recently, Obropta pointed out. In the 1980s, municipalities began installing catch basins, but they were more intended to curb flooding than to cut down on source pollution, he explained. But in 2004, state regulations were adopted that took a long view on the matter, requiring new real estate development projects at the time to use such things as porous asphalt and other materials that allow rain water to be absorbed more naturally, as well as other ways of collecting the water for alternative uses. While that was a major step forward for new building, “The problem is the waterways are polluted now from existing development,” he said.

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Obropta’s study will involve visiting Red Bank – an urbanized community almost entirely built out and largely covered with impervious surfaces – and looking for opportunities to create an infrastructure to stem the flow of storm water and the material it carries directly into the surrounding waterways.

His team will look for places where things like rain gardens – shallow depressions that capture rain water, allowing it to filter into the earth and circulate back into the ground – can be installed; and areas where parking lot runoff can be captured in above-ground tanks. Some communities around the state allow the water from those tanks to be used for things like fundraiser carwashes and other public uses, instead of using potable water, Obropta explained. “It’s about thinking about things in a more holistic manner,” he said.

This sort of retrofitting of existing developments has been done quite successfully elsewhere, even in large urban areas, such as New York City and Seattle, Obropta pointed out.

The Rutgers team is expected to begin its study in the coming weeks, completing it by the end of the year, according to Obropta. The study is expected to cost approximately $15,000, with much of it being funded by grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, an affiliation of educational institutions supporting environmental research. The borough would be obligated to contribute about $5,000 toward the project.

“This project is very inexpensive and the benefits are huge,” Obropta said.

The Rutgers team is working with Tinton Falls and Fair Haven to implement the recommendations most likely in the spring, and Obropta is working with those communities to seek out funding sources to help with the cost. On the local level, community groups like the Boy Scouts could undertake small projects, he noted.

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Ultimately, Obropta is hoping to conduct these studies for all the communities in the Navesink watershed, as communities look to stop pollution sources.

Swarna Muthukrishnan, staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action, offered her support for the efforts. “In my opinion, with a conscience effort I definitely think this is doable,” Muthukrishnan said.

This article was first published in the Oct. 12-19, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.


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