History Of The Upper Raritan
During the late 1950's a group of forward thinking people came together to discuss the future of their communities. There was a general consensus that the pace of development was too fast, that natural resources were being heedlessly destroyed and, unless something was done, quality of life in the region would be lost forever. This was twenty years before an Earth Day was established and there were only minimal government structures in place to protect "the environment".
(Photo to the right: Lady Bird Johnson presents the
National Conservation Organization of the Year Award to Exec. Director Richard
Goodenough, Washington, DC, January 11, 1965)
Watersheds: A Rational Basis for Action
Action was needed, but what kind? A watershed association believes that the natural boundaries of a watershed, rather than the artificial lines of political jurisdictions, form the most rational basis for action. Within those boundaries, effective action depends on a careful concern for physical, economic, social and biological processes taking place. Care must also be given to those processes outside the region that may alter its nature. With help and advice from the established Stony Brook Watershed Association, our group moved ahead to incorporate as a non-profit watershed association.
The First Years
In 1959 thirteen individuals signed Articles of Incorporation and URWA began to move forward as a purely voluntary organization. Of particular note during these early days was the support of the energetic Helen Swan Woodman who tirelessly advocated for the Association. Membership was solicited and dues were $2.00 per year. After several years, Richard D. Goodenough, a recent graduate of the University of Maine was hired as the organization's first executive director. He brought a strong sense on honesty and clarity to the organization, traits that continue to this very day.
URWA embarked on its first great battle when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed the location a third jetport for the New York Metropolitan region in Readington Township. After a bitter fight, the proposal was abandoned. This change would have devastated not only the site but the entire region. It is significant to note, that the Rockaway Creek and the vital water supply that was to become the Round Valley Reservoir would have been severely compromised by primary and secondary impacts from the jetport.
A Scientific Basis for Action
In 1967 URWA completed the first watershed-wide water quality inventory in the state evaluating 23 environmental factors such as geology, soils, aquifer yields, water quality, and open space. The results concluded, "The quality of the waters of the Upper Raritan Watershed is generally good at present. However, new highways have been constructed and development pressures are increasing. In order to maintain present conditions, greater attention to proper land use and waste treatment is necessary." This pioneering work formed the basis for many of the planning and zoning decisions made over subsequent years throughout the Upper Raritan's 23 watershed communities.
The 1970's: Promise and Problems
The decade of the 70's witnessed the growth of the modern environmental movement, the establishment of State and Federal environmental regulatory agencies, and the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. URWA advocated for more and better environmental planning at the local level and fulfilled the promises of the Clean Water Act by actively participating in the new planning opportunities created by federal law.
At the end of the decade, New Jersey witnessed a growing concern over solid waste and toxic chemical contamination. The Upper Raritan watershed region was not immune. In 1980, URWA first identified surface and ground water pollution at a hazardous landfill located in Washington and Chester Townships. The Combe-Fill Landfill contained 60 different chemicals, eight heavy metals and radioactivity. Under URWA's leadership, the municipalities and a group of citizens successfully closed the site, listed it on Superfund and "watch-dogged" the $23 million clean-up effort. Today, the 65-acre landfill is capped and a treatment plant monitors and remediates contaminated ground water.
Water Supply Woes
In the early 1980's New Jersey experienced a minor drought that triggered the proposal to construct a poorly conceived pipeline project. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) scrambled to solve the water supply crisis by formulating a plan to divert massive amounts of North Branch water to the Upper Passaic River. URWA pressed policy questions and finally, the project was de-authorized. However, the state's fundamental lack of commitment to rational planning remained. In cooperation with other environmental groups throughout the state, the Water Supply Bond Act of 1981 was passed. Today, over 25 years later this effort remains the cornerstone of water supply planning in New Jersey.
Toxics and Garbage Redux
The 1980's also witnessed the continuation of the solid and toxic waste crises. Morris County proposed 11 potential sites for new solid waste landfills in our watershed while Somerset County proposed nine. Based on its significant experience with the Combe-Fill landfill, URWA led the fight to remove these potential threats. Ultimately not one new landfill was located within our watershed.
The Hazardous Waste Facilities Siting Commission proposed an even more serious threat with the proposal of two sites in our watershed, a toxic waste incinerator along the Black River in Tewksbury and Readington Townships and a "land emplacement" facility in Bedminster. URWA employed a consulting firm of worldwide experience in these matters to assure that any site evaluations conformed to the stringent rules established in law and regulation and to critique the entire process. Ultimately both sites were deemed "unsuitable" and the threat was deterred. Without an inexpensive and easy solution for dumping, many of New Jersey's more progressive industries began to alter production processes to reduce toxic wastes.
Recognizing the importance of land preservation to watershed protection, in 1993, URWA conducted a study to explore the feasibility of the Association expanding its efforts to preserve open space. The results indicated that URWA should institute a Conservation Easement Program, augmenting its existing commitments to land that had been donated for safekeeping by conservation-minded landowners. The largest such parcel is Fairview Farm Wildlife Preserve, 170 acres in Bedminster. To date, the Association has contributed to or directly preserved over 2,000 acres through acquisition, donation and a conservation easement program.
URWA was the first non-profit environmental group in New Jersey to obtain and implement geographic information systems (G.I.S.) technology. Assisted by the Cook College Remote Sensing Center, URWA established the first watershed-wide computer database in the state. The technology is a vital component of our programs and provides advanced computer analysis to local governments, and statewide initiatives. In the late 1990's URWA implemented the Non-Profit G.I.S. Users Community, a training and problem-solving program to assist other environmental organizations.
Because there were too few opportunities and resources for our citizens and particularly children, to learn about the natural environment, in the mid 1990's URWA stepped up its educational activities including school and scouting programs, a nature day camp, and family programs. Hands-on stewardship projects, such as invasive plant removal, water monitoring, trail maintenance and tree plantings were carried out by citizen volunteers throughout the year. As URWA's Land Preservation Program expanded, stewardship and monitoring responsibilities increased.
Without URWA's dedication and commitment to the land and waters over these past forty-seven years, this region would be a different place to live. The Association's presence has made a significant contribution to natural resource protection and the quality of life throughout the Upper Raritan Watershed region.
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