Sunday, March 20, 2016

Multiple Threats along the Ramapo River

Ramapo River in Mahwah     (photo: Jan Barry)

By Larissa Ledo

The Ramapo River is approximately 30 miles long in southern New York and northern New Jersey part of the Passaic River Basin. It provides water for over 200,000 residents and is a popular place for fly fishing, but also known to be the most populated river in northern New Jersey.

The river was contaminated a few decades ago when Ford Motor Company produced six million cars and trucks at a plant in Mahwah. The pollution, lead paint sludge, was dumped in Mahwah and other places upstream in Hillburn, NY, threatening the region’s water supply. Those who rely on the river as a source for drinking water are exposed to the risk of drinking contaminated water. 

Paint sludge contamination in an area of Hillburn along the Ramapo River and a tributary, Torne Brook, was discovered by a Ramapo College professor, Chuck Stead, on a hike with his students. At first the company denied knowing about the contamination, but later on if was discovered that the lead paint sludge was purposely buried in the area and found its way into the river. When the paint get hard it breaks into small pieces which makes it easier for it to migrate into the river. The contamination put the area’s most important watershed at risk. 

In 2005 when The Record reveled the paint was still in the area and at another dump site in Ringwood, NJ, Ford removed more than 50,000 tons of contaminated soil in Ringwood. That site is near the Wanaque Reservoir, which supplies water to millions of people in New Jersey.  

Another threat to the Ramapo River is that when Hurricane Irene passed through an oil spill happened which became a concern for Mahwah’s residents since they get their drinking water from wells along the river. The storm water flooded several oil trucks and fuel storage tanks. The flood was also what revealed the paint sludge in the Ramapo River that was found by Professor Stead’s students. 

The Ramapo River is known for frequent flooding problems. To address this problem, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection came up with a project to reduce the flood damage. The project provides a 40-year level of flood protection. It consisted of installing two floodgates at Pompton Lake Dam, as well as widening and deepening approximately one-mile of the Ramapo River upstream of Pompton Lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the Department od Environmental Protection, permitted and managed the construction of the project.

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