Jersey City: Where Does Your Water Come From?
It’s a typical Jersey City morning (if there is such a thing), you wake up, rub your eyes, stumble into your bathroom and turn the faucet on to brush your teeth. Seems pretty simple – but have you ever thought about where your water is coming from? Jersey City water actually comes from the Boonton Reservoir 26 miles away. Thank goodness for indoor plumbing!
Now you may ask, why is Jersey City’s drinking water so far away? Is there not an option for closer drinking water? This all started in 1899 when Jersey City wanted a new water supply and turned to the Rockaway River 23 miles west of the city. The contract called for a dam, reservoir and pipeline which was completed in 1904. While going 23 miles west might not make any sense to you now, keep in mind that Jersey City suffered with contaminated water for decades causing thousands of people to die from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. Supplying clean water was on top of the cities priority list, pushing Boonton reservoir to be the FIRST to have continuous use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the United States.
As of now the reservoir has been strictly just that, a reservoir. This body of water holds over seven billion gallons and sits in the middle of a lively forest full of animals that you may not see anywhere else including our very own national bird, the bald eagle and our recently appointed state reptile, the bog turtle. While the reservoir was once open for the public’s enjoyment it has been closed off for recreational use since 2001. That was until Jersey City’s Mayor Fulop decided to work with the Open Space Institute (OSI) to develop a plan to reopen the trails around the reservoir. OSI’s mission is to “protect land that supports the things we can’t live without — like clean water, climate protection, and healthy communities — and safeguard the places that make life worth living, like parks for recreation and plant and animal habitat.” I was able to attend a meeting at City Hall, joined by the Environmental Commission, The Office of Sustainability, OSI, Greener by Design and Jersey City Councilpersons, to hear about the upcoming plans for the reservoir and steps that have already been taken to make their vision a reality.
What’s the debate?
There are always two sides to every story and the decisions to make the Boonton Reservoir open to the public isn’t an easy one. There are concerns about maintaining the environment around the reservoir, protecting endangered species that live there and of course ensuring good quality drinking water for Jersey City residents. The representatives of the Open Space Institute, Eve Boyce and Terrence Nolan, presented their Boonton Reservoir Protection and Trail Project along with their consultants Greener by Design to address these concerns and share their findings when they visited the reservoir.
There will be 4 access points which are highlighted in the pink boxes below, to reach the reservoirs walking/running trails, and it’s anticipated that with more people on the site, more garbage will follow. To solve this problem, their answer is…Security! Jersey City has teamed up with the Parsippany and Boonton Police Department to add the trails to their daily patrol and new fencing will be put up along the perimeter. They will be equipped with ATV’s to easily navigate the trails and keep any of the riffraff out of this protected area. While patrolling the area can’t guarantee that people still won’t use Mother Nature as their personal garbage can, the Morris County Parks Commission will be responsible for trash pickup and trail maintenance ensuring that the water and the surrounding area stays as clean as possible.
Another issue that has to be addressed is the runoff from the adjacent highway I-287 leaking into the reservoir. The good news is plants function as a natural filtration system but the bad news is whitetail deer LOVE eating these plants. Therefore, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Morris County Parks Commission have immersed themselves into this project to protect Jersey City drinking water and the surrounding habitat. The Morris County Parks Commission will be adding more vegetation to areas with significant runoff and installing fences around the newly planted plants to keep those pesky deer out. The DEP will also be ensuring the survival of the endangered species that inhabit the reservoir like the great blue heron, bald eagle and bog turtles, while removing invasive species of plants that have taken over the forest.
Eve and Terrence were both happy with the presentation of their project to the public and the awareness that they are building within the Jersey City community and hope that Jersey City residents take a trip out to see the reservoir. They expect to present their project to the Jersey City Council in late November and anticipate the final design and permitting will be completed between January 2020 and January 2021. While construction won’t ensue until late 2021, it’s worth it to check out the beautiful reservoir yourself and continue to learn more about how opening the trails to the reservoir may affect you.