Non–Point Source Pollution, rather than pollution from specifically identifiable effluent flows, is now the greatest cause of degradation of drinking water quality in the Passaic River Watershed, affecting both reservoir and well water. It arises from many human activities. Comprehensive planning and education is needed to combat this menace.
Regional water supply can’t be maintained and damaging floods can’t be prevented unless enough forest and wetland areas are set aside to receive and absorb rainfall. New development that proposes to build and pave over critical watershed lands heedlessly will eventually choke off the water. We need to identify the most important lands to preserve and act aggressively to preserve them.
Community Wells – A community that pumps drinking water from wells acquires a vital interest in protecting the well heads (the region of ground from which the wells draw) from going dry or becoming polluted. Several Passaic River Watershed towns are considering the adoption of ordinances designed to protect their well heads from degradation.
Ground Water Recharge – The Passaic River Watershed’s most important reservoir is the invisible one: the layer of ground water that lies below the surface at depths varying up to 600 feet. Vital to the maintenance of this layer is its recharge when rainfall and snowmelt seep into the ground, but new building of roads and houses robs the watershed of permeable land.
Keeping Ground Water Plentiful and Pure – Approximately 50% of the water used in the Passaic River Basin comes from underground, much of it from aquifers. Ground water feeds the streams and lakes and is tapped by the public community and private wells that serve many communities. This unseen but vital portion of the water supply is vulnerable to pollution and overuse. Passaic River Coalition established the Ground Water Protection Committee to develop plans and programs that prevent groundwater contamination, including a proposed well head protection ordinance for adoption by watershed towns.
Rescuing the Lower Passaic – The waterway and banks of the Lower Passaic, the historic 23 miles of river from Paterson’s Great Falls to Newark Bay, are in a sorry state, in critical need of restoration and improvement. The urban communities along its banks would benefit economically and gain a new sense of pride.
Base Flow: Keeping the Streams Going – Though surface runoff from rain or snow will occasionally swell a stream temporarily, its ordinary or base flow is fed entirely from underground sources: aquifers (i.e., ground water). The base flow of many Passaic watershed streams is becoming stressed; there is too little contribution from ground water, too much withdrawal by water users and not enough rain and snow. Careful planning and control will be needed to keep streams and rivers, such as the Upper Passaic, the lower Rockaway, the Pequannock and the Pompton, in balance.
Water Conservation: Not Only During A Drought – The drought of 2002 was not just a transient phenomenon. It was the result of years of neglect and degradation of water supply and loss of water supply lands. To prevent future droughts, we must adopt policies to use less water and put water back into the ground.
Riparian Forest Buffers:
What they are: Riparian forest buffers are strips of land connected to or adjacent to a stream or other body of water that are managed to reduce the adverse impacts of nearby land uses and nonpoint source pollution. The strips of land should be covered with native trees, shrubs and other vegetation and extend at least 75 feet from either side of the waterway.
Improving the Passaic River Community Environment:
Riparian forest buffers:
- Prevent erosion of stream banks by providing plant and tree roots that hold soil together and deflect waves.
- Filter excessive and undesirable nutrients, sediment, fertilizers and other pollutants out of surface runoff before it enters the stream, keeping the waterway clean and preventing the buildup of algae.
- Increase the proportion of storm water that seeps into the ground, recharging ground water, and maintaining base flow by slowly releasing water to streams during subsequent days and weeks.
- Reduce flooding by absorbing storm water.
- Provide better habitat for animals.
- Shade the stream and keep it cool, maintaining a water temperature at which desirable aquatic organisms can thrive.
- Drop leaves and branches into the stream, providing habitat and appropriate nutrients for fish and other aquatic life.
A Recreational Resource:
Enhanced with mulch walking paths, boat docks and landings that give access to the waterway, riparian forest buffers can be a recreational resource that recaptures the riverfronts and restores natural beauty to the surrounding area. More about the Passaic River as a recreational resource.
Investing in the Future:
In many cases stream banks are already adequately forested and can serve as buffers with no additional investment. Some stream banks are degraded and must be restored and replanted. While this can involve some initial investment in plant materials, tools and labor, the community should amply benefit over the long term, by experiencing:
- Less damage from flooding.
- Less maintenance of streams and their banks.
- Higher property values.
- Lower cost of cleaning and filtering drinking water
Model Buffer Ordinance:
In partnership with the Ten Towns Committee, the Upper Passaic Conservation Committee, the Whippany Action Committee and the Rockaway River Cabinet, Passaic River Coalition has been working with towns in the Passaic River Watershed to create a Riparian Conservation Zones Model Ordinance by which towns would act to establish buffer zones within their own boundaries.
To Learn More:
Contact the Passaic River Coalition to find out more about creating buffers on public and private land and adopting a buffer ordinance in your town.