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.