Busted sanitary sewer lines in two locations along Marion Street in Red Bank were significant sources of bacteria winding up in the Navesink off Fair Haven, investigators said. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


Environmentalists and government officials have found two culprits, just yards apart in Red Bank, believed to be contributing to a spike in human waste bacteria in the Navesink River, they said Thursday night.

And the mystery could not have been solved without a trio of specially trained sniffing dogs, an ecstatic Clean Ocean Action leader Cindy Zipf told redbankgreen.

Attendees at Thursday night’s edition of the Rally for the Navesink, held at Bingham Hall in Rumson. Below, green dye put into the sanitary sewer quickly made its way into the storm sewer on Marion Street. (Photo above by John T. Ward, below by Cindy Burnham. Click to enlarge)

Testing last week that involved injecting green dye into the sanitary sewer system and putting it under pressure led to the discovery of two locations where human waste was leaking directly into the storm system, borough public utilities director Cliff Keen told a ‘Rally for the Navesink‘ meeting at Bingham Hall in Rumson.

One breach was on Marion Street opposite the borough community garden, and the other was less than 100 yards west, at the intersection of Marion and Worthley Street, Keen said. Both the storm and sanitary lines there are more than 100 years old and made of terracotta, he told redbankgreen.

“This is a major find,” said Keen.

The discovery was the result of a collaboration among government and nonprofit environmental organizations launched as Rally for the Navesink last year by Clean Ocean Action to address a spike in fecal coliform levels that had prompted the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to declare 566 acres of the river off-limits for shellfish harvesting because of the health threat.

And the investigation proved the concept of using a combination of techniques to pinpoint sources, officials said.

In this case, the detective work involved extensive water sampling in the river and at storm sewer outfalls; the use of tracking dogs trained to identify the presence of the bacteria in sewers; and the deployment of dye-testing and sewer video cameras to zero in on problem sites.

Keen said that elevated bacteria levels off Shippee’s Creek in Fair Haven were traced from Schwenker’s Pond, which feeds into the creek, to the Red Bank storm system, a portion of which empties into the pond.

The dogs then tracked the bacteria to the storm drains at Mechanic Street and Harrison Avenue, said Bill Heddendorf, a laboratory supervisor at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Further testing with dyes and video cameras on April 19 confirmed the Marion Street breaches, he said.

“The great thing about this is that it worked at every piece,” said Keen. “This is really a big success for the entire program.”

Heddendorf said one of challenges in source-tracking is that the flow of human waste into the river is not constant, but affected by both the intensity of usage of the sanitary sewer — essentially, how many people are using bathrooms and kitchens at the same time — and rain or snow events that quickly leave one-third or more of an inch of water on the ground.

“The issues that we found were intermittent,” he told redbankgreen. And absent the coordinated detective work, “there’s no way you would have known” there was a problem at those locations, he said.

Zipf gave particular kudos to the dogs, which were supplied by Maine-based Environmental Canine Services, whose services were paid for by the organization she founded.

“If the dogs didn’t sniff that out, it would have taken trial and error for months, at who knows what cost, to do what the dogs did in a couple of outings,” Zipf told redbankgreen.

“This is a perfect instance of how we can take a broad-scale monitoring approach to zero in on an area, and then take other techniques to find out where it’s coming from,” said Bob Schuster, the DEP’s bureau of marine water monitoring.

Borough officials are moving quickly with a plan to replace the faulty sanitary line, Keen said. Meantime, there’s “no impact on the community garden,” he said.

The source tracking for a handful of other sites in the Navesink watershed is continuing, officials said.