On September 26th, the Jersey City Municipal Council voted to approve a 40-year lease agreement allowing Morris County Parks Commission (MCPC) to open Boonton Reservoir to the public. That Friday, the agreement was signed. MCPC and the Open Space Institute (OSI), will have the next two years to perform studies and develop a land management plan to ensure that the site is properly managed and secured to protect the reservoir, which is the source of drinking water for Jersey City residents. As stewards of Jersey City’s decommissioned Reservoir #3- a site residents have spent fifteen years saving from development, working to preserve and transform into a park and nature sanctuary and creating public access and programming -we learned that the Boonton Reservoir is not adequately cared for and at risk for contamination due to illegal access.
What the Boonton Reservoir Open Access Plan Entails
We have been asked about the Jersey City Environmental Commission (JCEC) Meeting on September 4 where the Boonton Reservoir open access plan was presented by OSI. In short, our water supply faces two major problems: (1) deer overpopulation has destroyed the forest ecosystem , increasing erosion and runoff, and (2) the perimeter fence around Boonton Reservoir regularly experiences breaches and there are not enough staff employed to monitor this 1,300 acre site. We were shown photos of trash dumped in the area, an access trail wide enough for vehicles to pass by (polluting the soil which runs off into our water), photos of fishermen, and obvious photographic evidence of deer overpopulation. We also learned just how close existing human development is to the Boonton Reservoir, including a major road. Members of the JCEC remarked that they would like to hear directly from Suez in the future about the site has been managed .
At the hearing OSI and its consultant, GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. presented a proposal to protect our drinking water and increase biodiversity of native wildlife in the area. In studying the site so far, they have observed that there is little understory due to deer overeating young saplings. The understory- small trees and shrubs below the canopy layer of the forest- is vital to protecting the soil from erosion. They have also observed a significant amount of invasive species that are harmful to the ecosystem, preventing further growth. OSI and GZA plan to install a deer fence around the perimeter so that the area can reclaim itself and continue to grow.
In the upcoming months, OSI aims to begin three major studies: Scope of Work, Threatened and Endangered Species, and hydrologic. Physical work on Boonton Reservoir cannot start until the plan is approved. The Threatened and Endangered Species study would identify present species and estimate their population in the area. This would ensure public trails do not disturb nesting areas or prime feeding and breeding locations. Two species that may be nesting at Boonton Reservoir are the bald eagle and the wood turtle, both endangered in New Jersey. In the locations indicated by the hydrologic study, the proposed work would shore up areas prone to runoff and place both vegetative and filter barriers. The vegetative barriers would consist of native plants, especially on either side of all trails, which would also make the edge of the trail extremely clear to guests. These efforts would help to improve the water quality by better balancing the surrounding ecosystem.
Most importantly, Jersey City would retain the right to revoke the lease agreement if it finds the ecological and security management of the site is not satisfactory. The OSI plan is Jersey City’s best chance to control site security and maintenance, which would otherwise be extremely costly to Jersey City taxpayers. In allowing public access to Boonton Reservoir, the Morris County Parks Commission and the Parsippany/Troy Hills police force would patrol the area and enforce responsible use of the Boonton Reservoir. There would be no public access to the water itself, no vehicles, and no dogs allowed on site- significantly reducing the risk for contamination. The project as a whole would be funded by Morris County and Parsippany/Troy Hills, grants, and donors. By allowing public access to the land around the Boonton Reservoir and partnering with organizations that can provide on-site educational programming, we can also demonstrate to Morris County residents how vital this space is so that they become good stewards of it.
What about Reservoir #3?
Another concern about the Boonton Reservoir project is its inaccessibility to the majority of Jersey City residents. That concern has now been addressed. Currently the City of Jersey City is beginning emergency repairs to the retaining walls and getting plans approved to replace and to reconstruct the roofs of the gatehouses inside Reservoir #3. The City has also made Reservoir #3 its next priority for Green Acres funding. Once open, we hope that teams at both reservoirs will collaborate with each other on educational programming and outreach. We have reached out to the MCPC and hope that we can start a lasting partnership to benefit residents of both Hudson and Morris counties. One idea is that students could start with a visit to Reservoir #3 to learn about the history of Jersey City’s drinking water and study the water quality of a decommissioned open air reservoir, then afterwards visit Boonton Reservoir to study the water quality and management of an active reservoir.
We are pleased to see that both Reservoirs will be receiving the care that they desperately need. We are so grateful to the City of Jersey City, JCEC, OSI, and all of the local organizations in Jersey City for working with us to ensure that Reservoir #3 is not forgotten. Most of all, we thank the public that have stood with us now and in the past to make our Reservoir a place for everyone. Let’s keep the momentum going!