Restoring wetlands to improve water quality

The New Jersey One Water Awards honor projects that demonstrate great water management. Winners illustrate the One Water ideal by valuing and making use of all water, whether it’s drinking water, stormwater, or wastewater. The awards program is sponsored by five organizations: American Water Resources Association’s New Jersey section, American Water Works Association’s New Jersey section, Association of Environmental Authorities, Jersey Water Works, and New Jersey Water Environment Association. Read about the winners announced for the 3rd annual New Jersey One Water Awards.

Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc.

When Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc. (ASGECI) began working on the Kenco Acquisition, now known as the Pequest Wildlife Management Area, the land had very low ecological value. ASGECI’s efforts to restore the property’s wetlands have greatly improved local water quality and stormwater management, demonstrating how healthy ecosystems can provide substantial benefits. The wetland, which will be managed as part of the Kittatinny Valley State Park, has enhanced 9 acres of stream corridors, restored 19 acres of wet meadows and 34 acres of forested wetland, and passively restored 25 acres of wetland forests. 

The site had been a sod farm located in the floodplain of the Pequest River. Heavy fertilizer use both on the site and upstream had depleted oxygen in the Pequest River, resulting in poor water quality that severely harmed aquatic life. When the land was no longer used for agricultural purposes, the landowner sold it to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). NJDEP partnered with ASGECI to improve water quality by restoring ecological health, recreating natural hydrology, and reversing human alterations made to the landscape.

The restoration plan

Pre-restoration Pequest River Bank Erosion 2017

Stream Restoration Construction Natural Channel Design 2017

Amy Greene, president of ASGECI, says the site is ideal for wetland restoration because it “helps us understand the geologic history of the area.” A glacier moved through the land 17,000 years ago, carving out the Pequest River and creating wetlands. When humans modified the land for agricultural use, they drained the property, altered the landscape, and then abandoned it. ASGECI’s goal was to reverse the extensive alterations to the property’s drainage. They first mapped and surveyed the land. Altered tributaries to the Pequest River were realigned and reconfigured to a stable condition. Implementation of a floodplain bench and bank stabilization measures also provided increased flood storage and improved water quality.

Wetland forest restoration using native trees shrubs grasses and wildflowers

The restoration project focused on holistic and innovation techniques, including salvage and re-use of the site’s native vegetation, vernal pool construction, floodplain restoration, stream  realignment, in-stream habitat structures, and turtle nesting habitat creation. ASGECI planted a total of 14,360 native trees and 6,300 native shrubs. As a result, most of the water flowing through the wetlands is filtered and recycled on site. The native vegetation helps filter nutrients and sediment, so that cleaner water flows through the wetland, into the Pequest, and into the Delaware River. Restoration projects in critical locations like wetlands are essential for improving and sustaining water quality because healthy wetlands ensure that pollutants are filtered out before they reach larger water bodies.

Restored and Stabilized Stream Channel 2018

Pequest River Restoration Using Instream Structures 2018

Pequest River Floodplain Bench and Riparian Zone Restoration 2018

The success of the restoration water management project relied on collaborations. ASGECI worked with North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development, NJDEP DFW, and the New Jersey Wetland Mitigation Council, making sure to communicate with state, county, and local officials, as well as the public, at all stages. ASGECI brought in consultants experienced with design,

Aerial view of restoration site after restoration showing forested wetland, wet meadow, riparian zone, restored stream channels and floodplain bench along Pequest River

development, and oversight of wetland mitigation projects and hired local contractors to complete the project, contributing to the area’s economy. The project design also incorporated comments from local stakeholders, contributing to beneficial recreational and educational uses for the public. ASGECI’s wetland restoration project has improved water quality on more than 90 restored acres. As Ms. Greene says, “You can see after just one growing season what we’ve done here. We’ve restored this land to what it wants to be.”

Craig Metzgar, Department Manager for Mitigation and Compliance at Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc., receiving the award at the Jersey Water Works Conference on Dec. 13.

Project partners: The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council

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