The more than 600 square miles of land draining to the bay can be divided into subwatersheds associated with the major waterways flowing to the bay – the Metedeconk River, Toms River, Cedar Creek/Forked River/Oyster Creek complex, and Mill Creek and the southern streams.
Each of these subwatersheds has a unique mix of land-use types, ranging from undeveloped (forests, marshes, grasslands, and wetlands) to lightly developed (agricultural lands and rural communities) to more highly developed (suburban/urban neighborhoods and commercial and industrial areas). These different land-use types affect the quality and quantity of the water flowing through and under them in different ways, and ultimately affect the quality of life for the people and wildlife that call this area home.
To improve conditions in the bay and its watershed, the Barnegat Bay Partnership is developing two new Watershed Protection and Restoration Plans, one for the Toms River subwatershed and one for the Cedar Creek/Forked River/Oyster Creek subwatershed complex.
Stakeholder Advisory Committee
The first step in developing a new plan is to form a Stakeholder Advisory Committee. Input from stakeholders at the community, municipal, county, and state level is critically important to ensure the plans benefit every municipality, as well as the region as a whole, both environmentally and economically. A Stakeholder Advisory Committee has been established for the Toms River plan and a separate one for the Cedar Creek/Forked River/Oyster Creek plan. Contact Ceili Pestalozzi, BBP Watershed Specialist, about joining one (or both) of these committees.
Identifying Problems and Collecting Information
Members of each Stakeholder Advisory Group discuss what is known about water quality/quantity issues in the subwatershed and identify the priorities and objectives the plan should address. Some areas have known problems (e.g., harmful bacteria, low oxygen levels, too much sediment in the water, not as much/too much flow at times, flooding) but the causes may not always be immediately clear.
In an effort to gather more information, project scientists are collecting and analyzing water samples at key points along the rivers and streams within the subwatershed. They are also conducting visual assessments of stream segments. Walking along the stream, they note the physical characteristics and look for evidence of erosion, poor water quality (like excess algae), stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure, and other evidence of sources of pollution. The information gathered in the field will be combined with other sources of information (previous studies, other water quality sampling, land use maps, etc.) to document the subwatershed’s current status and expected trends, and to identify areas of concern.
Developing the Plan
The next step is to come up with different ways to tackle the problems identified during the technical analyses. Some of the recommendations may be “structural” (e.g., fix a detention basin, create a treatment wetland, install vegetated swales in a parking lot), while others may be “non-structural” (e.g., purchase land for open space preservation, recommend changes to local ordinances, conduct an education campaign about water use).
The project team will work with the Stakeholder Advisory Group to develop strategies. Together they will prioritize strategies based on local knowledge and their ability to meet the agreed-upon objectives. With field data collection, technical analyses, and strategy prioritization complete, the project team will pull it all together to create the Watershed Protection and Restoration Plan.
The next step is to work on improving water quality in the subwatershed by putting the new plan into action. Up to five conceptual designs will be prepared for each subwatershed, and working in conjunction with the Stakeholder Advisory Group, one project in each subwatershed will move forward into planning and construction. Other projects identified in the plan will be implemented once additional funding becomes available. Besides having a suite of strategies for improving water quality at the ready, having an approved plan also makes potential projects eligible for dedicated funding streams that would otherwise be unavailable.
Plans for the Entire Watershed
These two Watershed Protection and Restoration Plans, and a third plan being prepared by a team led by Rutgers University for the Mill Creek and other southern watershed streams, are being funded by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection through the 2018 Water Quality Restoration Grant Program. When completed and combined with the Metedeconk River Watershed Protection and Restoration Plan previously prepared by the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority, there will be approved plans for the entire Barnegat Bay watershed — great news for protecting and restoring the bay for generations to come.