Monday, October 12, 2009

You May Be Living With a Few Energy Thieves!

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Member

Electricity use by power-hungry household consumer electronic devices is rising fast. For example, the very popular, new flat-panel televisions have turned out to consume more electricity than some refrigerators. And then there are personal computers (how many do you already have in your house?). What about iPods, cell phones, game consoles and digital clocks? The New York Times reports that Americans now have as many as 25 consumer electronic products in each household, compared with just three in 1980.

Appliances like refrigerators are covered by mandatory efficiency rules specifying how much power each category of appliance may use. The New York Times claims that today's new refrigerators consume only about 55% of the power consumed when the standards took effect. Further, the Times says that a new clothes washer today is nearly 70% lower in energy consumption than a new unit in 1990. But, don't relax -- now we have a growing, off-setting challenge, which may eventually cancel out the energy savings of appliance standards. Makers of consumer electronic devices have been successful in resisting the application of such energy efficiency standards to their products.

Most Consumer Electronic Devices Never Sleep
One way this is a different kind of challenge, is that many modern consumer electronic devices cannot be entirely turned off. Even when not in use, they draw electricity while they wait for a signal from a remote control, or wait to record a television program.

Of course, a single-minded person can find many of these electronic devices around the house, and turn them off when not in use -- but, in most homes there are so many of them! And some family-member users are particularly difficult to "police." There are some ways to let the problem take care of itself, however, if one takes the time to set it up properly. For example, plug the computers and entertainment devices into "smart" power strips. The strips turn off when the electronics are not in use, cutting power consumption to zero.

Another difficulty in controlling power wasted by consumer electronics devices is that many products now require large amounts of power to run. Flat-screen TV is perhaps the biggest offender. As liquid crystal displays and plasma technologies replace the old cathode ray tubes, and as screen sizes increase, the new televisions need more power than older models did. How often is the TV left operating when the viewers have all left the room?

Until energy usage by consumer electronic devices is better regulated, each of us must be more vigilant. While energy waste per device may seem trivial, it adds up fast.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Inspired By the Great Swamp, Marcellus Hartley Dodge Became the Quiet Leader Who Saved It

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Member

The Dilemma: Nature or Technology?
In 1959, it was discovered that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was developing plans to acquire the land we call “The Great Swamp,” and there to construct a "jetport." Their aims were ambitious, and their jetport would be one of the largest in the world. Many residents of the area were up in arms, but they were opposed by powerful pro-business interests.

In time, however, a defensive strategy emerged -- transfer as much land as possible from strategic places in the middle of the Great Swamp, to the Federal Government, for use as a wildlife sanctuary. It was believed this would keep the land out of the reach of the Port Authority, and thus defeat the jetport plan.

A Captain of Industry Becomes Engaged In Open Space Issues
After 1907, when M. Hartley Dodge married Geraldine Stillman Rockefeller, youngest daughter of William Rockefeller, brother of John D. Rockefeller and a founder of Standard Oil Company (NJ), the young couple became among the largest landowners in the Great Swamp area. It was known that Dodge was a generous donor of land to the newly-formed Morris County Park Commission. In 1957, Mr. Dodge and others donated over 50 acres to the Morris County Park Commission for Loantaka Park, the first link in the Loantaka Brook Reservation. But the actual extent of his concern for saving the Great Swamp was not revealed until later.

Dodge was the retired Chairman of the Board of the Remington Arms Company and had served for many years as a Director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. He was also a member of various other boards. He lived in Madison Borough and made substantial contributions (usually anonymously) to local causes. Born in 1881, “Marcy” Dodge was a friend of the rich and famous, and was descended from a founder of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Living Streamside

GSWA is introducing a new educational series this fall on what homeowners can do to protect the streams, ponds, lakes and wetlands that flow into the Great Swamp. We will tell you how you can prevent everyday products from contaminating our waterways, how you can have a “green” yard, and how you can conserve water. For instance, did you know you could make a difference by switching to a dishwasher detergent containing little or no phosphates? Phosphorus accelerates plant growth in our ponds and streams, reducing oxygen needed to support fish and other organisms. The actions of every one of us affect the health of our water. You don't have to live on a stream to develop good streamside living practices.

If you have already taken steps to protect the watershed, share your tips with us. Post your comment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Recognize a Truly “Green” Home

By Jim Northrop, GSWA Member

I find it hard to go to a hardware or home improvement store without being almost overwhelmed by the many products and new materials competing for attention as a “must have” step toward becoming environmentally “correct.” How to make my home into a “greener” place has become an ongoing learning process for me.

Having a “green” home is not just a fad. A “green” home uses less energy, water and natural resources, creates less waste, reduces greenhouse gases, and is healthier for the people living inside, compared to a standard home.

A home can be built “green,” or one can make it “green” later. A “green” make-over can happen all at once, or it can be a gradual process. But what it all comes down to, I think, is a new way of thinking and a new way of living. Commercial developers and building owners are perhaps the most important part of the equation. Architects and engineers have traditionally taken their cue from clients regarding a building’s environmental performance. The standard practice has been to focus more on construction costs than long-term operational costs. With a typical building lifespan of 75 years, however, maintenance and other ongoing expenditures often prove to be much greater than the initial costs. This makes energy efficiency, for example, an excellent investment over time.

What Shade of “Green?”
With so many voices advocating different ways to get to “green,” I started looking for some standards. I found that the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization, has been a pioneer in defining standards for “green” building design, construction, operation and maintenance, by offering a LEED certification for those building projects which qualify. “LEED” stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Importantly, it is homes and other building PROJECTS which may be certified, not builders; but any builder is eligible to register a project with LEED. This is a voluntary rating system, with inspections by qualified third parties, and is appropriate for a wide range of “green” situations, including “green” homes, affordable housing, mass-production homes, custom designs, stand-alone single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses, suburban and urban apartments and condominiums and lofts in historic buildings.

Apparently, I was not the only one doing some learning! This year the latest version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED building performance certification system will begin requiring the submission of building operation performance data on a recurring basis and as a pre-condition to certification. USGBC had found too often a performance gap between the energy modeling done during the design phase and what actually happens during daily operation after the building is constructed. So, ongoing monitoring and reporting of data will be required. It is thought that this will improve building performance by bringing to light external issues such as occupant behavior or unanticipated building energy use and water consumption patterns.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Do Your Homework...

Five years ago when my wife and I were house-hunting in suburban New Jersey, we fell in love with a 6 acre parcel bordered at the rear by a lovely stream. This stream is one of five which feed the Great Swamp, and then become part of the Passaic River. We have really enjoyed watching the seasons come and go along the stream, and one day we even caught a glimpse of a heron.

Last week, I happened upon my neighbor Frank one evening as I walked my dog. The same stream abuts both of our properties, but his house is closer to the water than mine. Importantly, he also has a direct view of a little island in the stream, about the size of a tennis court. The island is rocky and covered with underbrush --- generally it is considered an “eye sore.” Lately, area youngsters seem to have adopted the island, making it their “club house.” In the evenings they often gather after sunset and become disturbingly loud.

The Plan

My neighbor was upset about this island’s physical condition. But he was particularly disturbed by the “attractive nuisance” it represented to the youth who congregate there. He told me of his plan to privately bring in a bulldozer and level the island. He thought it would take less than an afternoon and that he would be making a great contribution to our neighborhood, all at his own expense ---- “it will be my gift,” he said.

As my dog and I continued our walk, I thought about Frank’s plan. I had several questions Frank had not answered. First, whose island was this, anyway? Secondly, I knew that to get a bulldozer into the water, the stream embankment would need to be cut and graded because of the sharp five foot drop-off to the water. Thirdly, did Frank know whether any conservation easements existed to buffer the stream corridor from just the kind of alteration that Frank was proposing? And finally, was destruction of the island the only, or the best, way to correct the problems that Frank saw? Frank liked to call himself “a man of action,” so he had not explored these questions. He said the bulldozer was coming in two days.

Doing Homework May Reveal Some Defects In The Plan

As my dog and I returned home that evening, Frank was still there, weeding a garden. I decided to share my concerns with him, and urged him first to consult with the Township Engineer. While the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection has general jurisdiction over fresh water wet lands and streams, small land use issues may sometimes be handled by local authorities, such as the Town’s Board of Adjustment. The Township Engineer should visit the stream site, I told Frank, and give his opinion about which agency can actually authorize the stream encroachment and give any required permits. I noted that the DEP vigorously enforces the New Jersey land use regulations with severe penalties.

Then we talked about the gathering of youngsters that Frank viewed as a noisy nuisance. “Frank,” I asked, “wouldn’t it be much easier to just ask the police to visit the area around the island periodically and bring order? And, it would not cost you ANYTHING!” Frank smiled and thanked me for the suggestion. He admitted that perhaps he had been a little impulsive, and that his plan of island removal was a bit drastic. We agreed that the Township Engineer probably would have some simple new suggestions for how to make the vegetation on the island less of an “eye sore,” while keeping the island largely the way nature had provided it.

Frank left me wondering just how often busy, well-intending people do not do their homework. This is one reason that not-for-profit environmental organizations like the Great Swamp Watershed Association are such a great resource for citizens facing a land use issue. With one phone call, impetuous Frank could have begun his homework and been sure to avoid some serious mistakes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To coin a phrase

Remember that old tag line, "An educated consumer is our best customer"? GSWA is dedicated to improving water quality and quanity, and the biodiversity it supports. And a large part of our mission is to educate the community about ways they can directly impact the health of our streams and rivers.

This fall GSWA is introducing its Streamside Series. The first of the series – Streamside Living – will focus on actions you can take as a homeowner to improve the environment. We’re not talking about major lifestyle changes, like walking to work instead of driving; we’re talking about simple changes in behavior that can make a world of difference in improving the quality of our water, now and for generations to come.

You don’t have to wait until the fall, though, to start making a difference. One relatively easy yet powerfully effective thing you can do today is reduce the amount of phosphorus (also called phosphates) you use at home. Though an essential nutrient for plants, too much phosphorus washed into our rivers and streams creates excessive plant growth. The over-abundant plants then decompose, reducing the available oxygen necessary for the survival of fish and other organisms, who have their own roles to play in maintaining stream health.

Phosphorus is found in fertilizers and dishwasher detergent, among other places. When used in fertilizers, it washes off lawns during storms and finds its way into storm drains that empty into our rivers and streams. When used in dishwasher detergent, phosphates find their way from your drain into sewer treatment facilities, which do not currently treat for phosphorous reduction. The resulting discharge from sewer treatment facilities, including the phosphorus, empties back into our rivers and streams.

One recent study found that 19% of phosphates that enter the sewer treatment systems comes from dishwasher detergent. Based in part on data collected by Great Swamp Watershed Association, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has become concerned about the abundance of phosphorus being returned untreated to our streams. The DEP has promulgated regulations which will require sewer treatment facilities to reduce the amount of phosphorus they discharge by 60%.

So, how you can help reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing untreated into our streams? One way is to find a dishwasher detergent that contains little or no phosphates. For instance, Palmolive Gel has 1.6% phosphates and Palmolive Tablets have 8.7%. Of course, you don’t want to reduce cleaning ability. Tests conducted in 2005 by Consumer Reports found that enzymes in dishwasher detergent was the most important cleansing agent in the detergent – much more so than phosphates. So read the label and find a detergent with enzymes and low or no phosphates…and your dishes will be as clean as ever.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Largest Great Swamp Creature -- A Concise History

The Great Swamp is home to 32 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles and 18 species of amphibians -- but all these creatures are dominated by a particular creature category called homo sapiens, or more commonly, humans! Has this been a happy relationship?

How Did It Start?

When European settlers arrived in the Great Swamp area, they found evidence of at least two permanent Lenni Lenape Native American communities. Since then a number of Native American camp sites have been identified near the Great Swamp. Agricultural products, animal skins, herbs for medicinal purposes, and trees for canoe transportation, were obtained from the Swamp by these early inhabitants.

During the first part of the 17th century, the Native Americans were left alone in the area. The Minisink Trail, a significant “Indian trail” in the area, used extensively by the Lenni Lenape, crossed the Swamp’s neighboring town of Chatham.

A Second Wave

By 1664, the territory that would become New Jersey was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey. Certain land in and around the Great Swamp area was acquired at one point by Sir William Penn and his sons. However, it appears that “clear” title passed in 1708 to another group of English investors who purchased the land that included the Great Swamp. It is reported that the Native Americans thought they were granting hunting and fishing rights, but English law was applied, and they lost their land.

By the early 18th century, farms and mills provided the principal occupations, as towns developed around the Swamp, but the population remained light. A devastating fire in the Great Swamp in 1782 following a period of drought, burned for weeks, to the detriment of those dependent upon the Swamp’s resources.

Trades and Professions Replace Farming

Efforts to farm the land in the 19th century were difficult, and despite efforts to drain the area, it remained primarily wetlands and wilderness However, newly established railroad lines from New York City by the end of the 19th century, changed the character of the communities around the area. Residential and professional pursuits began to replace farming, but some of the “small town” feeling remained. When plans for a jetport in the Great Swamp were revealed in 1959, the depth of feeling to preserve this place became apparent and the jetport plan was defeated.

Reportedly, some 250,000 people visit the Great Swamp each year. Residents and visitors continue to hold great power to do good as well as harm in the Great Swamp. Fortunately, the choice made by most affected homo sapiens has been to protect and preserve the Great Swamp. We hope to continue in this direction.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association with some 1600 members and a variety of continuing conservation projects, is one example of how the “largest Great Swamp creature” is benevolent, protecting the natural environment for future “creatures” of the Great Swamp.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another reason to visit the CMA

GSWA's Conservation Management Area has a geocache site called "Wear Your Boots"! Find its coordinates by answering a few questions about the CMA that are posted on The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site. To find the answers, take a visual tour of the CMA, and then put on your boots and head on over for the hunt!

So what is a geocache anyway?

A geocache is usually a small waterproof box (typically clear plastic tupperware) that includes a logbook, writing utensil, and some sort of toy trinket or object. The logbook is used to record information about people who have been to the cache. The original owner of the cache includes in the logbook their name, date placed and what object was in the box. Subsequent visitors to the geocache will exchange the trinket with something of equal or greater value and record their name, date and what they took from and placed in the cache. The geocache GPS coordinates are then posted online at or other geocaching sites for individuals to locate.

Want to add a geocache to the CMA?

Here are some recommendations for placing geocaches in the CMA:
  • A geocache needs to be put in a memorable location but placed in a way that cannot be found by accident or stumbled upon.
  • Because the CMA is land that GSWA protects and preserves for biodiversity and passive recreation, and we encourage "Leave No Trace" practices, the cache should be placed in a way where environmental impact is kept to a minimum.
  • Caches can include information about GSWA, what we do, and how people can support the organization.

What to bring to the CMA Geocache:

  • An up-to-date GPS locator
  • The coordinates of the cache
  • Boots and weather appropriate clothing
  • Pencil and paper
  • A fun state of mind

Happy hunting!

188 Acres Preserved in Morris Township

On June 30, 2009, St. Mary’s Abbey/Delbarton conveyed 188 acres in Morris Township to the Trust for Public Land to be preserved in perpetuity as part of Lewis Morris Park. Working with a coalition of private and public entities to obtain the necessary funding to protect and conserve this environmentally sensitive property, GSWA was awarded a $350,000 “Green Acres” grant to assist in the purchase of this property. Read more.