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Get the Cows Out of the Stream

Alexauken Creek, Ringoes, NJ - healthy Category One stream buffer

Alexauken Creek, West Amwell, NJ – healthy Category One stream buffer

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provides enhanced regulatory protections for “exceptional” waters of the State, known as “Category One” or “C1″ streams.

No disturbance of soils or vegetation is allowed by “major development” within a 300 foot wide vegetated stream buffer (on each side). Wide vegetated buffers protect water quality, provide plant and wildlife habitat, and reduce flooding risks.

On November 3, 2003 DEP proposed to classify the Alexauken Creek  a C1 stream. No doubt, DEP considered the above stretch of the Alexauken in West Amwell. According to DEP:

Delaware River BasinAlexauken Creek –  The Department is proposing a Category One antidegradation designation for the entire length of the Alexauken Creek including all named and unnamed tributaries based on “exceptional ecological significance“. Data on the health of the benthic macroinvertebrate community in Alexauken Creek indicate low stress (non-impaired) to the aquatic community with a good diversity of intolerant organisms. The in-stream habitat quality assessment indicates an exceptional (optimal) habitat quality (see Table C). The Alexauken Creek received a good Fish IBI rating with 16 different species identified in the stream (see @ page 10-11)

The Alexauken C1 proposal was adopted on August 2, 2004. Only the NJ Builders Association opposed it.

So, it’s crazy  that local farmers are allowed to ignore the importance of protected buffers and not only destroy stream vegetation, but graze cattle directly in the stream. This pollutes an important tributary to the Delaware River (upstream of Trenton’s water supply intake). It also increases flooding risks to downstream homes and the City of Lambertville.

cattle grazing in C1 stream and poor land management of buffer

cattle grazing in C1 stream and poor land management of buffer. Note how the buffer is clear-cut in the power line right of way

PSEG clearcuts vegetation in stream buffer, exacerbating erosion that ironically now threatens their own powerline

PSEG clearcuts vegetation in stream buffer, exacerbating erosion that ironically now threatens their own powerline

PSEG clear cuts vegetation in steep slopes in the stream buffer. This exacerbates soil erosion caused by grazing and poor farmland management practices:

Downstream of this farm, the flooding is made worse:

Alexauken floods after small rainfall (this is just 100 feet downstream of farm epicted)

Alexauken floods after small rainfall (this is just feet downstream of farm depicted)

A a result, the banks of the Alexauken are severly eroding – compare the below eroded stretch of the stream to the forested buffers in top photo:

stream bank erosion caused by poor land use and poor land management

stream bank erosion caused by poor land use and poor land management

Here’s what the Alexauken looks like after intense rainfall (location of this photo is just upstream of the cattle shot, across the same farmer’s land):

Alexauken floods farmer's land

Alexauken floods farmer's land

Here is the Alexauken, flooding just downstream of this farm – flood waters wash out road and threaten bridge, imposing millions of dollars of costs on taxpayers to replace them:

Alexauken flooding threatens to wash out road and bridge

Alexauken flooding threatens to wash out road and bridge

Here’s where the Alexauken meets the Delaware inLambertville (after a small morning rain) – these tributaries make flooding far worse in Lambertville and Trenton:

Alexauken near D&R Canal and Delaware River just north of Lambertville

Alexauken near D&R Canal and Delaware River just north of Lambertville

If one looks closely at the pictures of the cattle in the stream, one will note the footings of a major power transmission line. Note how the stream bank is eroding, thus jeopardizing the structural integrity of the power transmission line. Does PSEG care about land management threat to it’s power lines?

poorly managed land, grazing cattle in stream cause erosion that threatens power transmission tower

poorly managed land, grazing cattle in stream cause erosion that threatens power transmission tower

So, if State regulators at DEP don’t give a damn about protecting water quality and reducing flooding risks, maybe the BPU or PSEG will step in. If I recall, a tree fell on a power line in Ohio and that resulted in a blackout in the entire northeast. What would hapen if this transmission tower were to fall? If anyone even mentioned doing such a thing, I’m sure the Homeland Security folks would view it as a “eco-terrorism” concern. Maybe we ought to consider poor land management and soil erosion as a form of domestic terrorism – they are doing far more harm than alleged terrorists.

West Amwell  Ordinance prohibits soil disturbance or destruction of vegetation in bufferb

West Amwell Ordinance prohibits soil disturbance or destruction of vegetation in buffer

Grazing cattle in a C1 stream and PSEG practices of clear cutting vegetation in the protected stream buffer are unacceptable land management practices. We will bring this matter to the attention of all agencies with regulatory jurisdiction and an ability to stop it: DEP; Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District; State Agriculture Department; BPU; and West Amwell Township.

We’ll let you know about what we hear - but don’t hold your breath waiting for enforcement.

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