Passaic River Flood Commission studies you know what

Hydrology experts call the Passaic River one of the most flood prone rivers in the U.S. Public officials have been trying to deal with the Passaic’s chronic flooding for more than 150 years, digging ditches through wetlands to improve drainage, building dams and reservoirs to control storm water, widening and dredging the river’s channel to ease flow. Nothing helped. The Passaic has kept on flooding. Now, it’s Governor Chris Christie’s turn.

Christie appointed a new Passaic River Flood Advisory Commission and charged its seven members with submitting a report by year’s end on ways to prevent and respond to flooding. The Commission held its first public meeting in May at Montclair State; two more public hearings are expected in July and August.

The Commission will review the many previously recommended solutions, including expanding and accelerating the state program that buys up properties in the river’s floodplain, and revisiting some old Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control suggestions. Follow the Commission’s progress and learn when and where the public hearings will be held.

Despite the Commission’s best effort, however, we have to recognize and accept the fact that flooding is what a river does. What makes the Passaic’s natural spring and fall high water so problematic is all the homes and businesses that have been built in the river’s natural floodplain, and the destruction of the acres of wetlands which, had they been preserved, would have absorbed and protected communities from the excess water.

Exploring the Passaic River

Despite the fact that I grew up along the Passaic (in North Arlington, N.J.) I never really explored the river as a kid. In fact, I was well into middle age by the time I took my first boat trip on the Passaic. But these days, plenty of people are exploring the Passaic – and they’re recording their adventures. Here’s two very different Passaic River video diaries that caught my eye:

This first one, from Igindoff, shows his October 2009 paddle from Lord Stirling Bridge upstream into the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There are more paddle videos on Igindoff’s YouTube page.

This next video, courtesy of Wheeler Antabanez, is kinda trippy. If you like it, here’s where to find more of Wheeler’s work.

Couple paddles Passaic and Rockaway rivers

Check out the latest post on Larry and Kathy’s Kayak Adventures blog. The intrepid pair put into the Rockaway from the Essex County Environmental Center in Eagle Rock on a recent Sunday and paddled downstream to its confluence with the Passaic. (The Rockaway is one of the Passaic’s major tributaries.) It’s a nicely written paddle log with lots of great photos.

Summit, Berkeley Heights residents join forces to improve their Passaic

A group of concerned folks from Summit and Berkeley Heights is leading a volunteer effort to clean up their stretch of the Passaic. Their focus is conservation and recreation. The group’s first meeting will be held on Monday, November 30 at 7:30pm at the Summit City Hall (512 Springfield Avenue). Residents and Passaic River lovers welcome. The nonprofit Passaic River Coalition, the oldest Passaic River advocacy group, is offering professional guidance for the project, which is supported by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions and the New Jersey-based Geraldine Dodge Foundation.

Tales and memories of the Passaic River

I grew up along the Passaic River in North Arlington. As a kid, I mostly steered clear of the river because, well, because I grew up in the sixties and back then the Passaic was even dirtier and creepier than it is today. But even though the Passaic scared me, it touched me too. I wasn’t sure what had happened to the river, how it had come to be so filthy and forgotten. But I was pretty certain, even as a kid, that whatever had happened to the Passaic hadn’t been the river’s fault. I was afraid of the Passaic, but mostly I felt sorry for it. I wonder if anyone else out there remembers feeling that kind of compassion towards the Passaic. If anyone out there has a story or a feeling or memory about New Jersey’s longest, crookedest, most historic and abused river, would you share it? Here’s mine.

Fed dollars to purchase flood-prone Passaic River homes?

Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-08) announced recently that the U.S. House of Representatives approved an Energy and Water Appropriations bill which includes $5 million to buy up private homes in extremely flood-prone neighborhoods of Wayne and Pompton Lakes. The homes, about 30 in all, sit in the Passaic River watershed.

For the last few years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been buying up and removing floodplain houses as part of the Passaic River Basin Flood Management program. That program will get a big shot in the arm if Rep. Pascrell’s bill can make it through the U.S. Senate. “I am thrilled by the support of my congressional colleagues who voted in favor of funding the full $5 million earmark to provide an additional option these troubled homeowners,” said Rep. Pascrell, a longtime friend of the Passaic, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m especially looking forward to the restoration of the overdeveloped floodplain that will make the river safer for everyone.” Here’s hoping.

Head of the Passaic

Rutherford’s Nereid Boat Club held its ninth annual Head of the Passaic regatta last weekend (October 3 and 4). More than 140 crews – and some 400 rowers – from the New York Metropolitan area turned out on a beautiful autumn day. The regatta is a wonderful celebration of shell racing that recalls the nineteenth century heyday of Passaic River rowing. Back then, most riverside communities boasted their own rowing teams, and enthusiastic locals would crowd the riverbank on weekend afternoons to picnic and cheer on their hometown favorites. The four-man team from the Passaic River Restoration Program, rowing in honor of their late manager, Bob DeVita, took the first place trophy in the Men’s Masters Novice Four category. You can get complete 2009 Head of the Passaic results and lots of photos from the weekend’s festivities at the Nereid web site. Read the Nereid excerpt from This American River. And check back for Head of the Passaic regatta pictures from This American River‘s own photographer John Bruno.

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Passaic River Loses a Friend

Bob DeVita, longtime manager of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s River Restoration Department, passed away last week. I never met Bob in person, but I interviewed him several times for This American River. We talked mostly about Bob’s work managing the PVSC’s  two skimmer boats, which remove tons of floating garbage from the river’s surface every year. But Bob was instrumental in creating many PVSC programs that brought people to the Passaic. He was also a wonderful interview subject – generous and funny, a great storyteller, and clearly passionate about his work with the Passaic. “There is an enormous void left in not only the entire Passaic River community, but also in the lives of those that knew Bob,” wrote Tom Pietrykoski, a PVSC colleague, in an email announcing Bob’s death. “It is now up to us to carry on his legacy.”

There will be a memorial service on Saturday, October 3rd from 2-8pm at the Elks Lodge, 50 Hinchman Avenue, in Wayne, N.J. October 3, 2009 would have been Bob DeVita’s 59th birthday.

Brick City Documentary

Brick City, a five-part documentary about Newark Mayor Corey Booker’s fight efforts to fight crime, premiers Monday, September 21 on The Sundance Channel. Filmmaker Marc Levin hails from Maplewood, N.J. Brick City‘s executive producer is Oscar-winning actor/director Forrest Whitaker, who was intrigued by Booker because “he empowers people, and he’s done that on so many occasions.” Booker managed to reduce Newark’s crime rate by 40 percent in 2008. The mayor has also been a good friend to Newark’s Passaic River. His administration has installed a public boat dock near downtown and has been hosting free public boat tours up and down the river. Booker is also pushing ahead with plans to build an 11-acre park along the Passaic waterfront in Newark.

Yes, There ARE Fish in the Passaic River

Eels and crabs too, and scientists are assessing the health of their populations in the Lower Passaic River. Researchers are snagging specimens with nets, processing them at a makeshift lab in East Rutherford then sending tissue samples on to a Massachusetts lab for analysis. The goal to determine how Passaic River wildlife is handling Passaic River toxins. The federal EPA is supervising the fish study, which is being paid for by The Lower Passaic Cooperating Parties, the group of 73 companies that the EPA considers responsible for the industrial contamination in the Passaic River downstream of Garfield’s Dundee Dam. Pollutants include heavy metals, PCBs and, of course, the massive concentrations of dioxin in the river sediments near the old Diamond Alkali plant in Newark. Once scientists finish sampling Passaic River fish, crabs and eels, they’ll start looking at the Passaic’s populations of fish- and crab-eating birds. The wildlife assessment is all part of the Diamond Superfund cleanup, whose headliner project gins up next fall when crews will begin dredging 40,000 cubic yards of dioxin-laced sediments from the riverbed in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.