NY/NJ Baykeeper: Public Lacks Engagement to Protect Waterways

Waterways surrounding the state have seen pollution increase and NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Debbie Mans told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that there is a lack of engagement and knowledge from the public about how to better protect water resources.

The waterways around the Bayshore area are notorious for being polluted. Mans said there are a few reasons for that. She said that one is historic pollution and used the Passaic River as an example because there was a lot of dumping in the waterway that needs to be cleaned up. She said there is also ongoing pollution from a combination of sewers and polluted runoff from storm water.

Mans said that runoff is rain water that runs over lawns and picks up fertilizers, dog waste and anything else that may be on the surface of the roadways and lawns and it goes straight into the storm sewers, which does not get treated, and goes out into waterways.

“We are up here in the New York, New Jersey Harbor, we’re surrounded by water and we’re really trying hard to get people out. So we do everything from offering free kayak tours of the Raritan Bayshore out of Keyport, where our office is located. We do a great free event in Woodbridge to get people on the Woodbridge River, which most people don’t even know exists,” said Mans. “We really want them to discover their local waterways and embrace them and then become advocates for them. When they ask questions about ‘Why can’t I go in the water today?’ or ‘Why is my access blocked off to the water?’ then that gets people thinking and asking their elected officials and making different choices and decisions about how we treat our waterways.”

When asked what the single most important issue affecting the estuaries into the harbor is, Mans said that she thinks there is a lack of public engagement and knowledge about the resource and how to better protect it. She said once people become engaged, she can tell people how they can reduce the fertilizer use and pick up after dogs to help the waterways. She said on a regulatory side, it is cleaning up the contaminated sediments so that people can safely eat the fish and the crabs.

The lower Passaic River has signs warning people not to eat the crabs. Mans said that is being cleaned up. She said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River that goes from the Belleville border down into Newark, and removing over 2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment. She said that she will know more about that in the coming year.

As for the impact of Hurricane Sandy on that area of New Jersey, Mans said that Sandy was and is still devastating. She said that most people don’t realize the storm surge in Newark got up to 10 to 12 feet and it overwhelmed the waste water treatment plant there, which is one of the largest in the country and is still recovering. She said there were flood waters that were mixed with raw sewage and industrial chemicals going into the communities along with oil spills.

When asked what kind of resources are being developed to help communities along the shore prevent that kind of issue in future storms, Mans said that it is important to not only look at the hard structure, such as walls, but to look at the softer, more natural means as well. She said it can be done by using nature systems like wetlands and green infrastructure to slow down both the energy from a storm and the localized flooding that is seen on a regular basis.