Changes in New Jersey’s natural landscape from centuries of development, farming and resource use directly affect the quality of our water. Deforested floodplains convey sediment into our rivers, paved surfaces drain polluted stormwater into our streams, and dams—more than 2,000 of them—disrupt fish migration and water flow, altering the health of entire river systems.
To safeguard precious water resources, we are working to restore our local rivers, streams, headwaters and floodplains. The Paulins Kill restoration is just one example of our on-the-ground work throughout New Jersey.
The fertile valleys and healthy waters of the more than 40-mile-long Paulins Kill have powered livelihoods and food production for more than 300 years.
Over time, activities like mining, logging, farming and development have taken their toll on the health of the Paulins Kill. For the river to remain a viable resource for the people and wildlife depending on it, it needs some serious attention.
How do you restore a river?
Restoring a river means tackling challenges methodically and bringing stakeholders like conservation organizations, farmers, business owners and private and public landowners together to address the river’s challenges and strategically advance a shared vision to protect it.
The Nature Conservancy is leading a team that includes The Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority - Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (WRWMG), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), local organizations and public and private supporters, to rejuvenate the Paulins Kill and the flow it delivers into the Delaware, which provides drinking water for more than 17 million people every day.
Reforest the Floodplains
Among the many challenges the Paulins Kill faces is that significant parts of its floodplain—critical land around the river’s banks—have been deforested and left without trees to help filter water, absorb flooding or cool the river for fish. We are reforesting 10 miles of floodplains, and, with the help of local landowners and residents, have planted more than 37,500 trees to date. Those trees provide shade to cool water and alleviate sediment runoff with their root systems—which benefits native fish that live in the river, and in turn the enthusiasts who fish there.
The Columbia Dam on the Paulins Kill has been impeding fish migrations and creating unhealthy stagnant water conditions for more than a century. The defunct structure was ranked in the top 5% of almost 14,000 dams prioritized for removal by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The Nature Conservancy and partners will begin taking the dam out in summer 2018, improving water quality and flow, creating enhanced recreational opportunities and reopening 25 river miles to spawning American shad and other migratory fish species.
Reconnect the Headwaters
The Hyper-Humus section of the Paulins Kill Wildlife Management Area, not far from the river’s headwaters, was mined for peat for over 75 years. More than 2.5 miles of river and floodplain were ditched and drained, creating a host of ecological challenges, including stagnating water, altered habitat and water too warm for native fish. We are working to restore the river channel and its connection to the floodplain to normal function, which will help absorb floodwaters, improve water quality and temperature, and create a variety of recreational possibilities at the site.
Built into our plans in the Paulins Kill is measuring how much we have improved the river’s health, to gauge how well the restoration is working. Our conservation scientists are monitoring water quality in priority areas of the Paulins Kill and using the results to set benchmarks, measure impacts of our work and help guide future strategy in the watershed. We are also surveying for freshwater mussels, dragonflies and damselflies—important indicators of watershed health and river condition. The data will provide a baseline against which to compare conditions over time as our conservation projects mature.
Together, we can secure clean water for all people without sacrificing the environment. The Nature Conservancy is fostering innovations in technology, collaborating with communities to use resources more efficiently and promoting policies that enable sustainability.