Navesink River’s Water Quality Under Review

May 31, 2016
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The Navesink River. Photo: Joseph Sapia

The Navesink River. Photo: Joseph Sapia

By Joseph Sapia

In recent years, outdoor users and scientists have pointed to the degrading water quality in the Navesink River.

They point to various pollutants, including petroleum products, pesticide and bacterium associated with human or animal waste. Along with that are depleted oxygen levels in the river.

How the river is specifically being polluted is unclear. But possibilities are: faulty public sewerage and private septic systems, chemicals used on farms and yards, and stormwater runoff from points of no-specific origin, known as nonpoint source pollution.

“I think there is a necessity for a major study, then educating,” said William D. Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation.

Kastning suggested the outreach go to municipalities, along with residents to “let them know what they could do better” to protect the environment. Anglers would be a good community for “spreading the word,” Kastning said.

Documenting the cause of at least some of the problems in the Navesink River and its 95-square-mile watershed may be answered as soon as the coming days when the Sandy Hook-based Clean Ocean Action (COA) group – composed of environmentalists and commercial anglers – releases a report whose working title is “Water Quality in the Navesink River.”

“We’re putting together the pieces to solve that problem, the action needed to happen to bring the river back to a state we can all enjoy in all weather,” said Cindy Zipf, COA’s executive director. “It’s a comprehensive review of where we’ve been, where we’re going.”

COA has been working on the study for more than a year, Zipf said.

“The Navesink, it’s not in good shape. It’s moving in the wrong direction,” Zipf said.

“I understand it’s been degraded,” said Bob Sandberg, co-conservation chair of the Jersey Shore Group of the Sierra Club and a member of the Tinton Falls Environmental Commission. “I’d be interested in this report.”

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But the report is not expected to answer all questions.

“We’re not sure where all the pollution is coming from,” Zipf said. “That’s part of the future assessment. We’re in a region that has parks, urban landscapes, suburban homes.”

And the area has been settled for a long time, Zipf said.

Some think leaking public sewer systems are a problem; some think that is not a big issue.

“Where do we go from here?” Zipf said. “How can we address these problems? I think what’s critical is the entire watershed be involved – from homeowners to organizations to business leaders to elected officials.”

A February 2008 study by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found “stormwater discharges and failing (sewerage) infrastructure are the most likely sources” of the polluting micro-organisms. The study recommended improving stormwater flow and correcting leaks in sewerage, along with simple solutions as keeping garbage containers water-tight.

Red Bank, for example, improved its sewerage infrastructure and clamped down on keeping water out of garbage containers, said Bob Schuster, interim director of the DEP Bureau of Marine Water Quality Monitoring.

“It seemed to work very well,” Schuster said.

Now, as the river deteriorates, the problem area seems to be expanding.

“It seems more of a watershed issue,” Schuster said.

As recently as January, the DEP extended its shell-fishing ban another 500 or so acres downstream to the Oceanic Bridge connecting Rumson and Middletown. And COA reported the river unsafe for swimming or paddling after it rains because of the flow of contaminants into the river.

This is a setback from “some of the gains that were made” in prior years, said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal environmental group also based at Sandy Hook.

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Over the last 10 years, the DEP has seen a degradation in the river going downstream to the Oceanic Bridge area, Schuster said.

Another concern to degrading the river is silting, Dillingham said.

When it rains, the river’s contamination level elevates, Schuster said.

So, the DEP is to work with COA “to identify source or sources” of the pollution, Schuster said. He said the study hopefully will find the problem by cause and location.

“We’re looking to start (the study) this summer, into the fall, winter or even longer,” Schuster said.

The study will look at multiple rain events generally producing a quarter inch to 1 inch of precipitation, Schuster said. He said the study should produce a “good core of data” by December.
“It’s a mix of pollutants, we think of a variety of sources,” Zipf said. “That’s part of the problem. The first order is to document the fact that it’s there.”

Chad Sumor, 43, who lives in Middletown, says fishing is good on the river.

“It’s been pretty good,” Sumor said. “I see a lot of stripers coming up.”
Sumor said he eats his catch, including crabs.

“They taste great,” Sumor said. “Everything’s been fine, so far. (But) I’d be concerned if they find something in the water.”

Sumor said he has noticed things of concern in the river.

“You see a lot of stuff in the water – debris,” Sumor said. “You get that brown water, smell, algae.”
Beside the shell-fishing ban, there are no other restrictions on eating marine life from the river, Schuster said.

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