The Health of the Upper Raritan

RHA’s stream monitoring data, gathered every June by a team of RHA scientists and dedicated volunteers, forms the basis of this annual watershed report card; this is a resource for individuals, municipalities, and government agencies to better understand where in the Upper Raritan streams are healthy and where they are in need of improvement.

Scroll down and click on the interactive map to see details for your local streams. 

Based on combined grades for macroinvertebrates, habitat, temperature and chemical parameters collected at our 74 stream monitoring sites in June 2022, our watershed received a D.  Is our water clean and safe? The answer is Yes and No. The map shows that some streams are healthy while others are not.  Most of our streams received an A+ for temperature, oxygen, pH, and nitrates, all of which support clean drinking water and diversity of cold water fish and other organisms.  However, phosphates, specific conductance (a measure of salts suspended solids), and habitat scores all received an F, because less than 50% of sites are meeting NJ water quality standards. Only 79% of our stream sites had a healthy assemblage of small organisms such as insects, mollusks and worms, important indicators of healthy streams. Because we are the headwaters of the Raritan River and the source of drinking water to 1.8 million people in New Jersey, our goal is to strive for an A or B in all areas.

What caused this rating?

Suburban development, unsustainable farming, loss and degradation of forests, and climate change are the main threats to the health of our watershed.  When we replace forests and other natural areas with pavement and buildings, we remove nature’s ability to absorb, filter, and store water and then slowly release clean water into our streams and aquifers.  With climate change, we are seeing higher temperatures and more frequent storms bringing polluted runoff directly into our streams and rivers. This report card tells us where we need to focus on protecting our forests and riparian buffers and where we need to restore damaged streams in the watershed by capturing stormwater in urban areas with “green infrastructure” such as rain gardens.  By applying river friendly practices around our homes and communities, we will have a huge combined impact on improving water quality and increasing local resilience to climate change.

Poorly-planned development and inadequate forest protection policies at local and state levels continue to threaten the region’s waterways. In the context of increased precipitation and extreme weather events due to climate change, there is a heightened sense of urgency to protect our streams.

Why should we care?

Water is the lifeblood of all living things on Earth.  We rely upon clean and abundant sources of clean water for drinking – and our rivers and aquifers in the Upper Raritan provide.  Water also absorbs heat, moderating and cooling local climates.  Rivers and streams provide opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, exploration and meditation.  Rivers and their forested floodplains absorb the impacts of floods, helping to protect human life and property.  Our economy is closely tied to water availability.  Finally, aquatic organisms and the abundant plants, animals and fungi living within riparian areas, are a stronghold for biodiversity, supporting the species that are critical to the ecosystems that provide us with these benefits.  To put it simply, water is life and we need to protect it.

Indicators of Stream Health

Below are water quality indicators that are used to for the watershed’s overall grade. Click on the map to view to details about each subwatershed. Click through the tabs to view each indicator.