Red Bank Administrator Stanley Sickels, left, discussed sewer lines with the DEP’s Bob Schuster after the meeting at Shrewsbury’s borough hall Thursday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Hoping to curb high levels of bacteria associated with human and animal waste in the Navesink River, a New Jersey environmental official offered local mayors and environmental activists evidence of minor success Thursday night.
It involved horse manure.
Addressing a rare summer meeting of the Two River Council of Mayors in Shrewsbury, Bob Schuster, of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s bureau of marine water monitoring provided an update on source-tracking sampling in the Navesink.
Last year, the agency suspended shellfish harvesting in 566 acres of the waterway after detecting elevated levels of fecal coliform, bacteria that occur in the intestines of warmblooded animals, and since then has ramped up both data collection and the speed with which it shares it with local officials, he has previously said.
The aim, Schuster said, is to identify the sources of the bacteria, and to work with towns to reduce its presence in the river. And he had an encouraging bit of anecdotal evidence that the effort was working as intended.
After a Monmouth County inspector noted piles of horse manure at the edge of a small lake on a farm on Navesink River Road in Middletown, the property owner complied with a request that the waste be removed, Schuster said. That night, July 18, a short storm occurred, and the nearest river sampling site — identified as station 55 — found lower levels of fecal coliform than after previous rainfalls, he said.
“There was a huge difference,” Schuster said. “Was it all attributable to that [farmer’s action]? It probably had some impact.”
By no means is a single farm the source of the bacteria, nor is it all coming from domesticated animals. Sampling has identified human and wildlife “signatures” as well, Schuster said.
For example, sampling at Chapin Avenue in Red Bank, he said, showed evidence of bacteria from domestic animals he said. With an estimated 23 million fecal coliform per gram of dog waste, each half-pound poop by Fido equals more than five billion bacteria, so getting pet owners to scoop up dog waste instead of leaving it on the ground or putting it into the storm sewer could go a long way to reducing the problem, he said.
Municipal officials are being asked to look at their infrastructure for possible sources, and to report any efforts head them off so that the DEP can monitor for impact on the river, Schuster said. Afterward, Red Bank Administrator Stanley Sickels spoke with Schuster about the possibility of sanitary waste getting into the storm sewer system when homeowners have their lines opened in the street for repairs.
Clean Ocean Action founder and director Cindy Zipf, whose organization is one of a handful of environmental groups coordinating with government agencies in the effort, said that “getting citizens involved is going to be the ticket” to reducing bacteria levels.
“Our main focus is a no-blame, find-it-and-fix-it approach,” she said, noting that Clean Ocean Action’s website has 10 tips for pet owners on how they can help.
The nonprofit organization is also help to organize a “Rally to Save the Navesink,” scheduled for Thursday, August 11 at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, which will also feature DEP updates as well as suggestions on how individuals and groups can help the pollution-reduction effort.
Schuster said the river remains safe for recreational use as well as for fishing and crabbing, but that the ban on shellfish harvesting was imposed after an eastward expansion of the area in which bacteria was noted.