Let The Testing Continue: Navesink River Volunteer Water Quality Program Extended

April 8, 2018
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A volunteer water quality testing fueled by Two River area residents will be extended through June 2019, thanks to an agreement from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The program enlists locals like Mike Humphreys, a red Bank resident, to test Navesink River water levels. Humphreys is taking a sample from Marine Park on a chilly February morning earlier this year.  Photo by Jay Cook.

By Jay Cook |

RUMSON – The multi-stakeholder, volunteer-driven effort to revitalize the Navesink River took a major step forward last week.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced its willingness to extend the Navesink Ambient Citizen Water Quality Monitoring and Source Tracking Program through June 2019.

The program enlists volunteer residents from the Two River area to test the water quality weekly in and around the Navesink River. It was set to end this June. About 55 local environmentalists rejoiced at the news at a meeting at Bingham Hall on March 29.

Bill Heddendorf, with the state DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring, said the DEP would continue Rally for the Navesink’s volunteer water testing program through June 2019. Photo by Jay Cook.

At the meeting, Bill Heddendorf, an official with DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring program who has been working closely with Rally for the Navesink and overseeing that program, said the extension is an endorsement of their efforts.

Significant infrastructure corrections have been made, thanks to the program, Heddendorf told the members during his PowerPoint presentation. “I do know that water quality is improving, and improving at an extremely rapid rate.”

Rally for the Navesink and the DEP became partners after about 565 acres of shellfishing area around the Navesink River was downgraded from “restricted” to “prohibited” usage in 2016. Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based environmental organization, coordinated Rally for the Navesink by pairing residents with other nearby environmental groups to help fix widespread pollution issues.

The DEP held a benchmark of 2020 to return the Navesink to a healthy, clean waterway. That goal seems to be within reach.

“I would ‘bet the under’ if I was a betting man,” said Heddendorf.

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Not only has Rally for the Navesink been effective in the communities which make up the Two River area, but some of its key stakeholders believe the organization can be a successful model to inspire others around the country.

In August, Heddendorf will present the Rally for the Navesink model to a crowd in Nashville, Tennessee at the 2018 International Low Impact Development Conference, where civil engineers and water quality experts showcase their successes on an international stage.

Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action’s executive director, said she feels “extremely proud” the system she helped create could solve other water quality issues plaguing communities across the country.

“If we can empower people to defend and own their waterway, to become aware of it, and how to have a positive effect, that’s most of the challenge,” said Zipf.

Zipf said the most important part of Rally for the Navesink has been its ability to create collaboration among municipal and state governments, nonprofit organizations and local residents, all of which have an equal interest in a healthy environment.

“I always believed we’d be able to clean up the water from sources pollution,” said Zipf. “But whether we were able to create a ‘watershed mindfulness’ and make it stick for the long term…was the biggest goal.”

More Research in the River

On a typical Wednesday morning, volunteers in the water quality testing program make over two dozen stops around a handful of Two River area towns. Heddendorf, the DEP scientist, said volunteers in the program will make additional stops once June rolls around.

The threshold between safe and unsafe water is 104 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of sample, per the DEP. Any number below that level is safe, but a reading above it means there is an unhealthy amount of pollution in a specific location.

And according to that barometer, Heddendorf suggested adding more locations along the peninsula. Two specific points-of-interest, he said, are around a pair of Rumson landmarks: Barnacle Bill’s restaurant at the foot of First Street and an outfall underneath the Oceanic Bridge. Heddendorf had noticed from recent DEP testing that those two locations “seem to be degrading more than anywhere else.”

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In Fair Haven, he also suggested adding a stop at the Shrewsbury River Yacht Club docks, located at 925 River Road.

Two more testing locations will be added near the start of the river in Red Bank. The first is planned for the end of Locust Avenue, where an outfall pipe pumps out a high volume of water, Heddendorf said. The other testing space would be behind the Welsh Farms convenience store at the corner of East Front and Spring streets. A faulty pipe could be causing issues there, he said.

Also, Zipf and Heddendorf said residents would see some outside help in detecting pollution. Human waste-sniffing dogs, used by Rally for the Navesink in late 2016, could make a return for another round of service.

The DEP will also set up a buoy in the Navesink River between mid-April and early May, aimed at collecting data in case another mass fish kill happens in the river. In the past few summers, waves of menhaden – more commonly known as bunker – have been found dead, floating in the river. Some experts link it to bluefish, a natural menhaden predator, running them aground to the shoreline, or a virus in the water.

Regardless, the buoy will provide oxygen and salinity level data for the DEP so “if we do see anything happen, we’ll have real time data,” Heddendorf said.

Monmouth U Getting Involved

When Monmouth University and the Borough of Rumson struck an agreement last year to create a marine field house behind borough hall, it meant there would be more interaction from university students.

Now, the partnership is starting to flourish. Jason Adolf, Ph.D, a Monmouth University marine science professor, told community members last week that he and his students will soon start research on the Navesink.

Adolf said his classes will study phytoplankton and algal bodies in both the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers, along with Sandy Hook Bay this semester. When it’s done, he’ll report the findings back to Rally for the Navesink.

He also hopes the symbiotic relationship can help gather more information about the Two River area.

“I’m going to be keeping myself and my students busy doing meaningful science,” Adolf said. “I want that science to be meaningful to more than just me and them, but also to a community that lives near where we’re working.”

This article was first published in the Apr. 5-12, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.

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