Rethinking and Restoring Our Rivers

June 27, 2012

Introduction by Margaret Waldock, Environment Program Director

Viewing a map of New Jersey, it’s hard to miss the expansive highway and road system that has fueled economic growth and sprawling development. But there is another network of crisscrossing lines on the map equally if not more important to New Jersey’s past and future prosperity: the streams and rivers of our state.  From the mighty Passaic River, which fueled an industrial revolution, to the Delaware, where patriots crossed, turning the tide in our struggle for independence, New Jersey’s rivers are an enduring, life sustaining contributor to our health and prosperity and we humans have had a tremendous impact on these natural systems.

Dams have driven industry, generated power, and created reservoirs and drinking water supply; they have also blocked natural flow and sedimentation patterns, impeded wildlife migration, and negatively impacted water quality. There are hundreds of dams considered a “high hazard” by the New Jersey Division of Dam Safety, the damage associated with dam breach can be considerable, and repair and remediation of these structures is expensive, and a liability to the private landowners on whose land many of these dams sit .

More and more, dam removal is considered a viable option to eliminating these safety hazards and groups like Trout Unlimited view this as a critical strategy to restoring New Jersey’s rivers. Through its Home Rivers Initiative, Trout Unlimited is focused on restoring the Musconetcong River, a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River that flows from Morris County into the Delaware River, and serves as the dividing line between Hunterdon and Warren counties. There are currently 34 regulated dams on the Musconetcong, the majority of which no longer serve their original function and are not in compliance with dam safety regulations. The Musconetcong River is a spectacular waterway, and Trout Unlimited and it hundreds of volunteer members would like to ensure it remains so. Dam removal is an essential part of their strategy, and when combined with wetland and riparian buffer restoration, provides a hopeful prospect for the river’s future as a high quality natural wonder with tremendous recreational opportunity.

Trout Unlimited

Mohawk Canoe Club Gives Musconetcong River Restoration a Big Thumbs Up

Recently, TU restored two sites of the Musconetcong River in NJ, totaling a mile of river that had severely degraded channels from past land use practices.  The newly restored water now has deepened pools, restored riffles and runs and lots of good trout habitat for native brook trout.  This work was done in both Mansfield Township on the upper river and in Washington Township on the middle river; including three private properties and one public property, the Cliffdale Inn, along Route 57N in Mansfield.  Support for this work came from grants from the Natural Resource Conservation Service using Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program funds along with funding from the NJ TU State Council.

Restoring Recreation

These efforts restored trout habitat where upstream development had widened the channel in Mansfield and where channel straightening destroyed aquatic habitat in lower Washington. In addition to providing restored habitat, the newly restored river channel is providing lots of new paddling opportunities for canoeists and kayakers.  In the photo above, a member of the Mohawk Canoe Club enjoys the newly restored section of the Musconetcong River that was previously devoid of deeper water and decent passage for paddlers except during high water. •

Related article (the before and after photos are pretty amazing!): Musconetcong River Channel Restoration Projects Completed

Brian Cowden is the Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative.

Trout Unlimited logo

TU has thousands of volunteers working out of more than 400 chapters nationwide to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries. They donate well over 500,000 hours every year to clean up polluted streams, restore water to dried-up rivers, and teach children about responsible stewardship and good fishing.

Additionally, a professional staff of more than 120 scientists, grassroots organizers, lawyers and policy experts provides a national context for these local efforts. They tackle legal and legislative challenges to the health of our nation’s rivers and help TU bring cutting-edge scientific tools, such as infra-red satellite imagery and sophisticated fish tracking devices, to bear on difficult problems like pollution, habitat loss and climate change.

Image courtesy Trout Unlimited