Friday, April 3, 2015

Ramapo River Clean Ups Need Sustained Public Involvement

By Vanna Garcia

In Mahwah, the first two weeks of June are the focus of an Eagle Scout project intended to clean up the Mahwah portion of the Ramapo River. This grassroots campaign aims to help preserve the river, hoping to remedy pollution and flooding issues for the benefit of all surrounding communities.

In order for any and all action to help the situation, however, proper knowledge and awareness of Ramapo River issues must be brought to local residents’ attention and that of policy makers. Though it may very well be a very expensive project, the consequences of not treating this as an important issue can have severe consequences for the river’s daily consumers.

The Ramapo River made headlines in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, an event that started a conversation on flooding and pollution by environmentalists and local residents.

The river is approximately 30 miles long in southern New York and Northern New Jersey and provides drinking water for over 200,000 residents. Despite this fact, the river has been under threat of contamination for years. The water pollution has been accumulating due to storm water overflow and the residual toxic waste from the Ford Motor Company’s plant that closed in 1980. The Ramapo Landfill Site, just off the river in the Town of Ramapo, was found to be a source of contamination for ground and surface water pollution in the area with organic compounds, heavy metals and phenols, according to the EPA.

Since the Ford Motor Company’s dumping of paint sledge in and around the watershed over 40 years ago,  contaminated soil and water have spread over miles in the river watershed. There have been efforts to clean up the residue, but a considerable amount of damage has already been done.

In fact, even just large storms cause the Ramapo River to flood, causing severe damage. Due to this, a flood protection program has been initiated to monitor the river during storms. To eliminate or reduce flood damage, the project area includes channel modification of 5,800 feet of the Ramapo River and the relocation of the Doty Road Bridge in Oakland. These changes reroutes water to stop water buildup from occurring in some residential streets.

Major flooding is not a new phenomenon in New Jersey. Residents of the state who live along the Pequannock, Ramapo and Pompton rivers in northern New Jersey, know to expect flooding after heavy rains. Many times, when forecasters expect floods days in advance, Governor Christie will declare a state of emergency to ensure the safety of at-risk locations.

While significant efforts have already been instated, a lack of coordination between levels of government and money has inhibited plans for development that will protect local watersheds. The Journal News has reported on what has been done to fix the flooding problem, but despite the response of governments at all levels, projects remain poorly funded.

If not enough people are properly educated on the issue at hand, the less likely it is that conservation projects will be financed and taken seriously by all parties involved.

Not many people believe this problem affects them in their everyday life, but protection of the Ramapo watershed should also be of strong concern to local residents because of the aquatic life, drinking water and recreational use that the water is used for. Further contamination can pose a public health risk that could potentially make many residents physically ill.

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