By Bliss Sando
The Ramapo River, which flows for approximately 30 miles from southern New York into northern New Jersey, is a key part of the region’s watershed. Over the past year, however, several instances of severe weather—specifically Hurricane Irene in August of 2011—caused the Ramapo River to flood the lands around it. Damage to houses, roads, bridges, railroads, and other structures was severe, but these floods caused another, less discussed type of damage to the river itself.
Storm water runoff in the Ramapo River area is the main contributor to the pollution of the river. The “extensive urbanization and suburban/commercial development of the area” causes storm water runoff to have elevated levels of contamination, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Furthermore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s report on the Ramapo Aquifer Systems, of which the Ramapo River is a part, states that the water is “vulnerable to contamination” because of the permeability of the region’s soil and the “unconfined” nature of the aquifer systems.
The pollution of the Ramapo River should be of the utmost concern to the communities that live around it because it is part of the aquifer that provides them the majority of their drinking water. The EPA’s report also states that “the potential exists for incidents of surface water contamination to affect public supply wells.” Too much contamination of the Ramapo River and its larger aquifer could cause a public health risk.
Unfortunately, storm water runoff is not the only source of pollution for the Ramapo River. In fact, as the EPA states, “incidents of contamination have already occurred in the Ramapo River Basin.” For example, the 96-acre Ramapo Landfill Site in Ramapo, New York was found to be a substantial source of the contamination of ground and surface water pollution in the area with volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and phenols, according to the EPA.
Ford Motor Company’s plant in Mahwah, New Jersey also left a legacy of toxic waste dumped in and around the watershed. This waste, which is spread out over miles of land in northern New Jersey and southern New York, has yet to be fully removed and therefore is still a threat to the Ramapo River.
Another cause of pollution for the Ramapo River Basin is the discharge of wastewater directly into the water. The densely populated areas that surround the river cause an abundance of municipal as well as residential wastewater to enter the Ramapo River system.
Pollution of the Ramapo River Basin remains a serious problem, and one that is dealt with as it comes instead of being prevented. Not only does this contamination threaten the quality of the drinking water for residents near the river, it also threatens the species of animals and plants that live in the river basin. It seems that the core cause of all of this pollution is the excessive development in the highly populated areas around the Ramapo River.
In their report entitled “Rivers in Danger,” Travis Madsen, Douglas O’Malley, and Dena Mottola acknowledge the fact that pollution to the Ramapo River Basin and other New Jersey tributaries endangers the plants and animals of the region as well as the people. The report states that, “Places like the Highlands are home to over 247 threatened and endangered species, in addition to providing an important waypoint for migrating birds.”
Environmental groups that work to protect the Ramapo River Basin and other nearby rivers include the Ramapo River Watershed Intermunicipal Council, the Passaic River Coalition, the New Jersey Sierra Club, and the Edison Wetlands Association. In addition to conducting scientific studies that analyze the effects of water pollution in and around the Ramapo River, these groups appeal directly to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to advocate for and defend policies that protect rivers from pollution.