Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Helping the Ramapo River

By Ashley Intveld

We can all use a helping hand every now and then, and though you will never hear it, one river is begging for it. 

The Ramapo River, measuring 115 miles, has been a heavy topic of discussion over the years for its pollutant content. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 22 percent of the streams in the Ramapo River Watershed tested poorly, and 24 percent tested poorly in the neighboring lakes, while 34 percent of the streams and 42 percent of the lakes remain untested. To receive an evaluation of “poor,” the source “does not support designated activities and uses,”  DEC stated.

The high pollution content is due, in part, to years of illegal dumping of toxic waste in the surrounding land, erosion of that land, and flooding conditions. The DEC notes, “Water quality in the Ramapo River Watershed is affected by the extensive urbanization and suburban/ commercial development of the area.” Storm water drainage collects harmful pollutants and carries them to the nearby rivers and streams. Because the land had been victimized by the environmental negligence of the Ford plant in the 1980s and other sources, erosion of the land has also drained harmful pollutants into the water.

The Ramapo River made headlines once more in 2011 after Hurricane Irene left devastation in her stead. With widespread flooding in the Mahwah area, the storm water runoff carried harmful bacteria and chemicals into the nearby water systems. Along with these pollutants were branches, trees, bushes, and housing debris that littered and disturbed the water’s natural flow. 

According to the Oakland Journal, local Eagle Scout volunteers headed down to the river to give it the helping hand it so desperately needed. Patrick Watters, a Ramsey resident and Eagle Scout, proposed a plan to clean up the Ramapo River after being influenced by his brother’s similar endeavors. Just six years prior, Watters’s brother helped remove tires and other large debris from the river’s watershed. Patrick found his opportunity to continue with his brother’s example after Irene wreaked havoc on the river and the surrounding homes.
Schuyler McCaff, a Newton, NJ resident, reflected on his own experience as an Eagle Scout looking to improve the environment. “We’ve been working on various projects over the years to make the environment a little bit better than it was before.” Schuyler discussed a project involving the construction of bat-houses that served as shelters for bats that were falling victim to White-Nose Syndrome that he worked on about a year ago. “We all got together and learned about what happens to the bats and this seemed like a small step that we could take to make it a little bit better.” 

Schuyler’s involvement in Eagle Scouts has given him an expansive outlook on the impact of urbanization on local watershed. “Sometimes when the other scouts and I are cleaning up a campground or state park, we’ll find old tires and scraps of metal that we can’t even identify. The water is murky in some spots with that rainbow tint to it that we know doesn’t happen naturally. Being an Eagle Scout helps me give back to the environment that people have abused for so long.”
The Ramapo River faces new challenges each day. The construction of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline poses  threats to not just the natural habitat of aquatic animals and land animals alike, but for the well-being and health of all local communities. The question remains: when the Ramapo River needs our help, will we hear its cry?

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