By Courtney Leiva
At a glance, the Ramapo River is a scenic tranquil part of nature. However, watershed pollution still remains a growing problem for the Ramapo River.
The Ramapo River, a natural landmark in the Mahwah community, is approximately 30 miles long and is a known part of the Passaic River Basin. The river flows through the New York counties such as Rockland and Orange, as well as New Jersey counties as Bergen and Passaic.
Despite the river’s pristine surface appearance, water quality is continuously threatened by growing urbanization, pollutants and pesticides, as well as lead from the remains of the Ford Mahwah plant.
The Ramapo River plays an integral part of everyday life, as citizens living in these counties get drinking water from this source.
However, pollution isn’t just caused by blown over garbage and litter as there are many factors contributing to this growing problem.
According to a published report conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, urbanization, suburban, and commercial development are among the biggest contributors to pollution as it increases storm water runoff. Runoff is the water which is discharged in surface streams from roads and parking lots.
Another concern noted by the study is a municipal and residential water discharges in the heavily populated areas.
For Jeff Meyers at the Water Quality Assessment Section of the New York State Bureau of Water Assessment and Management, these factors are unseen problems.
“Due to the fairly dense population and overall development, the waters in the area are under stress. The focus of DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) efforts-along with local municipalities –is on storm water controls to reduce these impacts,” Meyers says.
What's in the Water?
In the “Ramapo/Hackensack River Basin Water Body Inventory and Priority Water Bodies List”, a report published by the New York Bureau of Watershed Assessment and Management, the main pollutants in the river water are from sources like nutrients, pathogens, siltation, and other contamination coming from upstream waste water discharges and urban storm water runoff .
Hydrologist Paul M. Heisig cites pollution such as pesticides and road salt caused by urban development as a main contributor to this problem.
“Water quality is affected by storm runoff from developed areas, including road salt, fertilizers and pesticides. Increased population and industry also means increased wastewater generation and treatment, with subsequent discharge to local streams and rivers. Pollution caused by road salt is a difficult issue because a major change in people's thinking would have to happen,” Heisig says in an email.
Toxic wastes have been found in the water. In a 2005 article in The Record of Bergen County, environmental writing professor Jan Barry reported that the river was a major dumping spot during the days of the Ford Mahwah plant. The article also noted that some of these toxins found in the Ramapo River have been linked to hazardous chemicals such as lead and other cancer causing chemicals.
How this issue affects you
Many Mahwah residents rely on the Ramapo River for a source of drinking water. It also augments groundwater wells providing drinking water for about one-third of the population of Rockland County, according to the New York Bureau of Watershed’s study. The study also concluded that ground water coming from the Ramapo/Hackensack River Basin is consumed by other residents of both New Jersey and New York.
Toxins found in the Ramapo River would pose an overall threat to human health, as people not only consume the water, but the river is also a fishing hotspot and fish could be contaminated with the chemicals and heavy metals such as lead and mercury found in the river water.
What you can do to help
However, residents can make a difference to alleviate this problem by being both aware of the issue and becoming involved. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website offers three major ways to help.
First, investigating watersheds is an integral part of helping out. Researching potential pollution problems and issues existing within a watershed as well as environmental groups will determine what kind of action to take.
Taking action is an important step to helping this problem. One of these ways would be organizing groups to adopt a section of the waterway and work to pick up pollution.
One simpler form of action is to simply help prevent pollution whenever possible. Some solutions are as easy as recycling yard wastes, disposing hazardous materials such as oil, paints, and solvents as well purchasing greener products.