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Protecting Our Headwaters

The headwaters of a river are often small and easily overlooked.  It’s a spring, a stream, a seep.  Taken together, across a whole watershed like that for the Musconetcong River, there are probably a few hundred headwater sources.  When these become polluted or are filled, the river’s water quality is diminished.

The loss of a headwater, whether it is filled or built upon, is a permanent loss of a hydrologically connection to the river.  It can’t come back.

When a headwater gets contaminated, it can carry that contamination downstream and into the Musconetcong River.  These are ways to restore water quality, but stream restoration or pollution remediation is more costly than protecting the headwater form contamination.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Musconetcong River met water quality criteria for swimming.  Today, the river no long meets the swimming criteria.  It is suitable for wading, fishing, and boating.

For a high quality river like the Musconetcong, its greatest threat is succumbing to the death of a thousand cuts.  A few headwaters filled or built upon may not seem like much, but that could raise the water temperature on a stream.  During hot summer thunderstorm stormwater runoff from a large parking lot or roof can raise downstream temperatures above the maximum needed for trout to survive.  Only the sediment in stormwater runoff is regulated – not temperature or other pollutants like oil on the pavement or salt on the roadway.

Keeping the Musconetcong River water quality high means preventing further degradation of water quality, and restoring the river and streams where there is support and funding to do so.  Coordinated actions taken by federal, state, regional, county, and local governments and agencies, as well a landowners, are needed to maintain, and hopefully improve the river’s water quality.

The MWA does this in several ways:

  • Municipal Outreach, including stormwater and other ordinances, that help protect existing water quality from declining.

  • Watershed Planning, to find the contamination sources, develop restoration plans, and work with local partners to find funding sources.

  • Advocacy, because our public officials need good quality information to make decisions about the importance of protecting water quality.

  • Restoration, is very time consuming and expensive, but can pay off rewards for generations, as evidenced through our work on dam removals.

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