By JOHN T. WARD
Aided by a trio of specially trained sniffing dogs, environmental detectives have zoomed in on particular locations in three towns that may be at least partly responsible for a recent spike in bacteria levels in the Navesink River, they reported Wednesday night.
At the final Rally for the Navesink event of 2016 organized after a ban on shellfish harvesting from 566 acres of the river last February, a coalition of groups identified specific sites where leaking sanitary sewer lines or septic systems in Red Bank, Fair Haven and Middletown may be contributing bacteria from human waste.
Officials believe a leaking sanitary sewer line in the vicinity of Marion Street and Harrison Avenue in Red Bank, at lower left, may be partly responsible for bacterial hotspots detected by dogs at Schwenker’s and Shippee’s ponds in Fair Haven. A sewer line that runs from Fair Haven Fields to the Shippee’s Pond outfall was also implicated, they said. (Image by ECS. Click to enlarge.)
Five months after the series of “rally” updates began in response to a sharp increase in fecal coliform contamination triggered the ban, several dozen local residents gathered at the Monmouth Boat Club in Red Bank for updates by Clean Ocean Action and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on efforts to sniff out the sources of the problem.
They came armed with a 38-page report, prepared by Maine-based Environmental Canine Services, that summarized the findings of three days of sewer-tracking conducted in September by the dogs — named Logan, Sable and Remi.
“We didn’t identify a specific smoking gun so much as areas to follow up on,” Clean Ocean Action environmental lawyer Zach Lees told the gathering.
• The “Five Corners” intersection of Harding Road, Branch Avenue and Hudson Avenue in Red Bank
• Sanitary sewer “laterals” from the City Centre shopping center on West Front Street or the 7-Eleven store on Maple Avenue in Red Bank
• Sewer lines along Marion Street in Red Bank between Harrison Avenue and Worthley Street
• A dumpster belonging to a nursing home on Chapin Avenue in Red Bank alongside the Swimming River
• A sewer line that runs beneath Fair Haven Fields Natural Area, where “consistent and strong canine alerts… indicate that the leakage is likely significant and therefore should be given high priority.”
• Sewer and lateral lines from Schwenker Place to Forrest Avenue and on Forrest Avenue from the corner of Beekman Place to Lake Avenue in Fair Haven
Here’s the full report: ecs-navesink-report113016
“Failing sanitary infrastructure appears to be a big concern,” requiring the coordinated attention of municipal governments, the DEP and environmental groups now working together under the Rally for the Navesink umbrella, said Clean Ocean Action staff scientist Swarna Muthukrishna.
Mike Gianforte, executive director of the Two Rivers Water Reclamation Authority, which processes wastewater for Red Bank, Fair Haven and 10 other towns, told the gathering that the agency had videorecorded every inch of its system last year, and “it’s not the main” that’s leaking, indicating the problem is likely in the municipal lines or laterals that link to homes and businesses.
“But as soon as somebody finds a problem, we’re ready to fix it,” he said.
But even if the bacterial contamination levels are brought under control soon, it will be at least two more years before the DEP can lift the ban, Schuster told redbankgreen. That’s because the protocols the agency follows, mandated by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference and the federal Food and Drug Administration, require 30 rounds of river water sampling before a classification of “prohibited” can be lifted, he said.
“We have to follow the guidelines,” he said. So far, about nine rounds sampling from 48 stations in the river have occurred, with ten rounds per year scheduled, Schuster said.
The Navesink is not alone. Last month, the DEP banned shellfish harvesting in the Shark River for exceeding acceptable levels of fecal coliform.
“This is a chronic problem,” Clean Ocean Action founder Cindy Zipf told redbankgreen.
Because the environmentalists believe the contamination issues have multiple sources, including pet owners disposing of dog poop in storm drains and ravines, the rally also featured a session on teaching “watershed mindfulness” in schools. For more information, call Clean Ocean Action at (732) 872-0111.
The next Rally for the Navesink meeting is slated for January 25.