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Most of us are familiar with the famous quote “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” This sentiment is at the center point of the Highlands Act and Regional Master Plan, which provides funding to help New Jersey’s Highlands communities take a proactive and regional approach to watershed protection.
Historically, private lake associations and municipalities have worked autonomously to address water quality issues and develop improvement plans. Working together, however, and taking a regional approach to lake and watershed management has much farther-reaching benefits. Taking an integrated approach helps improve water quality and reduce incidents of aquatic invasive species and harmful algal blooms (HABs) not just in one waterbody, but throughout an entire region.
The New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) is a regional planning agency that works in partnership with municipalities and counties in the Highlands Region of northern New Jersey to encourage exactly such an approach. Created as part of the 2004 New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (the Highlands Act), the Highlands Council has funded numerous water-quality-related planning grants throughout the region.
“Watersheds are inherently regional; they don’t follow municipal boundaries. So the Highlands Council is in a unique position to address these challenges from that perspective,” says Keri Green, Highlands Council Science Manager. “It’s critical for municipalities to understand what is entering their lakes from the surrounding watershed before they can effectively address in-lake issues. Across the region, the stormwater inlets and roadways that encircle and affect lakes are owned and maintained by the municipalities, and when we can evaluate these inputs, we can plan for how to address impairments.”
In 2019, the Highlands Council funded a Lake Management planning grant for the Borough of Ringwood that adopted this wider watershed view, and would ultimately become a model for similar Highlands Council grants within the region. The Borough chose to engage the services of Princeton Hydro to support the project work.
“This regional approach to lake and watershed management is the obvious choice from a scientific, technical, and community point of view. Historically, however, this approach is rarely taken,” said Princeton Hydro’s Senior Project Manager, Christopher Mikolajczyk, who is a Certified Lake Manager and lead designer for this initiative. “We were thrilled to work with the Borough of Ringwood and the Highlands Council to set a precedent, which has opened the door for the Townships of West Milford and Rockaway, and will hopefully inspire the formation of more public-private lake management partnerships.”
Rockaway Township in Morris County, New Jersey received Highlands Council grant approval in January to complete a Lake Management Planning Study. Eleven small- to medium-sized lakes in the township are working together for a watershed assessment and comprehensive regional analysis, which will lead to the creation of a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). The WIP will recommend and prioritize key watershed management measures that will have big impacts on water quality improvement.
Given the large number of lakes in Rockaway Township, and in an effort to keep the study to a reasonable scope, a selection process occurred with input from the Township Engineering office, the Township Health Department, Princeton Hydro and the Highlands Council. The lakes in the Rockaway Township Watershed Management Program include Green Pond, Egbert Lake, Durham Pond, Lake Emma, Camp Lewis Lake, Lake Telemark, Lake Ames, Mount Hope Pond, Mount Hope Lake, White Meadow Lake, and Fox’s Pond.
“Rockaway Township has been proactive about implementing watershed improvement projects in the past, so we were happy to provide funding to support continuing their efforts focusing on these 11 lakes,” explains Lisa Plevin, Highlands Council Executive Director. “It was a very productive collaboration with Highlands staff working in partnership with the Township to develop an approach and Princeton Hydro preparing a scope of work that met everyone’s goals.”
The watershed assessment will entail a number of analyses, including watershed modeling; hydrologic and pollutant loading analysis; watershed-based and in-lake water quality assessments; and tropic state assessments. The assessment aims to:
Once all the lab data is processed, the watershed modeling is complete, and historical data reviewed, Princeton Hydro will create a General Assessment Report that will summarize the data/observations and identify which watershed management techniques and measures are best suited for immediate or long-term implementation. The team expects to complete the General Assessment Report in the spring of 2022, after a year’s worth of 2021 growing season data has been collected.
In October 2020, the Highlands Council approved funding to support a watershed assessment of 22 private and public lakes in West Milford Township. The watershed assessment project is being implemented in two phases:
For Phase 1, which will take place throughout the course of 2021, Princeton Hydro will provide a historic data review; an examination of hydrologic/pollutant loads; a pollutant removal analysis; and watershed water quality analysis. The pollutants to be modeled include phosphorus, nitrogen, sediment, and bacteria, while the hydrology will include estimates of precipitation, runoff, evapotranspiration, groundwater flux, and ultimately streamflow or discharge.
This analysis will aid the Township in selecting, prioritizing and implementing nutrient and sediment load and stormwater management efforts with a focus on watershed projects that have the greatest overall benefit to the long-term management of surface water quality. The report will also identify examples of site-specific locations where wetland buffers, riparian buffers, and lakefront aqua-scaping can be implemented as part of future watershed management efforts.
For Phase 2 of the project, Princeton Hydro will investigate and assess the water quality of each of the lakes in West Milford Township during the growing season of May – October of 2022. This entails collecting bimonthly water quality samples at each lake, including in-situ water quality data consisting of real-time measurement of clarity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH. The sampling events will also include a general survey of aquatic vegetation and/or algae growth, lake perimeter shoreline observations, and monitoring for nuisance waterfowl. These surveys will provide an objective understanding of the amount and distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and algae occurring throughout each lake over the course of the growing season.
The lakes included in this project are: High Crest Lake, Algonquin Waters, Lake Lookover, Kitchell Lake, Lindys Lake, Mt. Laurel Lake, Shady Lake, Wonder Lake, Mount Glen Lakes (Upper/Lower), Carpi Lake, Pinecliff Lake, Van Nostrand Lake, Upper Greenwood Lake, Post Brook Farms, Farm Crest Acres, Mt. Springs Lake, Forest Hill Park, Johns Lake, Gordon Lake, and Bubbling Springs Lake.
At the end of 2019, the Borough of Ringwood became the first municipality in New Jersey to take a regional approach to private lake management through a public-private partnership with four lake associations: Cupsaw, Erskine, Skyline, and Riconda.
The Borough of Ringwood is situated in the northeast corner of the New Jersey Highlands, is home to several public and private lakes, and provides drinking water to millions of New Jersey residents. In order to take an active role in the management of these natural resources, Ringwood hired Princeton Hydro to design a municipal-wide holistic watershed management plan that identifies and prioritizes watershed management techniques and measures that are best suited for immediate and long-term implementation.
Princeton Hydro recently completed a comprehensive assessment of the lakes and watersheds of Ringwood Borough. The assessment included a historical data review, hydrologic and pollutant loading analysis and in-lake and watershed based water quality data studies. The report details the results of Princeton Hydro’s mapping, modeling, and monitoring efforts in each waterbody and its respective watershed, along with specific recommendations for management implementations that are aimed at curbing the effects of nutrient and sediment loading, both within the lakes and their respective watersheds.
“Ringwood, West Milford, and Rockaway are three great examples of how people from different affiliations and backgrounds can come together to address lake and watershed monitoring and management,” said Mikolajczyk. “The key to success is open communication and a common goal!”
To learn more about Princeton Hydro’s natural resource management services, click here. And, click here to learn more about NJ Highlands Council and available grant funding.
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