THE GARDENER STATE: Just what is growing on out there?

Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the Township of Clark, and the City of Rahway have partnered to install projects that demonstrate “green solutions” for stormwater runoff.

Has anyone else around here noticed all the construction and installations going on?

Major intersections, front yards, and even parking lots have all undergone a transformation of sorts, though to the untrained eye, this all seemingly blends in with the rest of the neighborhood.

And in the name of harvesting rain water and trapping stormwater runoff, that’s the whole point.

Who would want to see large tanks erected to store runoff, or large swales or catch basins like alongside our major highways taking up residence in your neighborhood? But what if I told you that rain water harvesting is now being implemented throughout Central Jersey disguised as gardens and even special pavement that masquerades as a regular ordinary every day-looking parking lot?

Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the Township of Clark, and the City of Rahway have partnered to install projects in their watershed area that demonstrate green solutions for reducing stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution.

The Robinson’s Branch stream is a tributary of the Rahway River in northern New Jersey. The Robinson’s Branch watershed is in the Townships of Clark, Westfield, Scotch Plains, Edison, Woodbridge, and the City of Rahway. It also includes the Clark Reservoir and Milton Lake.

Project partners have installed rainwater collection systems (known as cisterns and rain barrels), rain gardens, and permeable pavements that allow water to move through the material and soak into underlying soils. These types of “green infrastructure” projects are environmentally friendly, sustainable, and cheaper than traditional “grey infrastructure” practices that use gutters, basins, and pipes to transport stormwater to local streams, rivers, and lakes.

Through the Rahway Rain Garden Project, 17 homeowners throughout Rahway had a portion of their yards transformed into customized, professionally designed rain gardens, as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce street flooding and improve water quality in the Robinson’s Branch Watershed in Rahway.

I literally ran across some of these gardens while jogging in Rahway, and jokingly thought to myself ‘there should be a “Rain Garden 5K” here some day!’ But in the meantime there is an easy-to-read brochure.

In addition, the largest rain garden in New Jersey was installed at Kiwanis Park in Rahway, at the intersection of St. Georges and Central avenues, opposite from the tennis courts and Rahway’s community garden.

Because they are typically planted with native perennials, rain gardens also help to reduce the cost of yard maintenance. Compared to lawns, which require constant care during the growing season, the typical rain garden thrives with no fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, or water other than rainwater or snowmelt.

In Clark’s town hall parking lot, porous asphalt in the parking spaces allows rain to soak into the ground. You may notice during the next rain storm that the porous asphalt in the parking spaces appears dry, while the conventional asphalt in the driving lane looks wet.

In addition, Clark Township installed a sustainable car wash that uses harvested rain water to wash cars and a rain garden to help remove runoff. Stormwater runoff from the Public Works building is collected in a 5,000 gallon cistern and, with the help of a booster pump, is used to wash cars. Cars are washed on a special ‘wash pad’ where the runoff flows directly to a rain garden located on the Arthur L. Johnson High School’s property.

This car wash is helping to save water, reduce stormwater runoff, and reduce pollution to the Robinson’s Branch stream and Rahway River.

For more information on this project, visit www.tinyurl.com/robinsonsbranch or contact Michele Bakacs, Environmental and Resources Management Agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County at bakacs@njaes.rutgers.edu or 732-398-5274.

Greening Perth Amboy

Within the past year, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) Water Resources Program, in partnership with the City of Perth Amboy, has formed a municipal action team. This has been accomplished under the support of the Surdna Foundation, www.surdna.org, which seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States —communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.

For more than five generations, the foundation, currently based out of New York City, has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.

This municipal action team, as defined by the RCE Water Resources Program, will create an agenda for Perth Amboy’s community-based green infrastructure initiative. The goal of this action team is to foster collaboration and collective action that helps Perth Amboy work toward the best definition and opportunity for new or additional green infrastructure. Not only that, it will also strive to educate residents and community leaders, to address any permit and long-term stormwater control plan requirements, and to leverage funding to design and implement green infrastructure demonstration projects.

Perth Amboy SWIM, an acronym for “Stormwater Infrastructure Management,” is a group consisting of representatives from the city’s planning department, local community groups, city engineers and utilities authorities, and other regional and statewide organizations. Together, the team meets monthly to increase the development of green infrastructure demonstration projects within the City of Perth Amboy.

But just what is green infrastructure? Generally speaking, green infrastructure is an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle. Green infrastructure should be effective, economical, and enhance community safety and local quality of life issues. It may mean planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building a new water treatment plant.

Some examples of green infrastructure include rain gardens, green roofs, rain barrels, and permeable paving.

Since mid-April, the group has made large strides toward this goal. Since their first meeting, the group has compiled a list of moe than 30 sites to prioritize for green infrastructure projects based on visibility and existing partnerships. With funding from the NJDEP 319(h) grant, awarded to the RCE Water Resources program earlier this year, the group has recently chosen nine sites to design and implement green infrastructure demonstration projects within the next year.

These sites include the Edmund Hmieleski Early Childhood Center; the Robert N. Wilentz Elementary School; the AristaCare at Alameda; St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; the Brighton Avenue Community Center; Market Street near Water Street; the Samuel E. Shull Middle School; Washington Park; and the Public Safety Complex.

Are you interested in joining the team? Any and all interested in participating in the green infrastructure initiative in Perth Amboy are welcome. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 13 at the firehouse in the Public Safety Complex. Email PerthAmboySWIM@gmail.com for more details.

Nicholas Polanin is associate professor, agricultural agent II, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension of Somerset County. Email him at polanin@njaes.rutgers.edu.

http://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/2015/07/08/gardening-stormwater-runoff/29840077/