The Musconetcong River rises from the outflow of Lake Hopatcong in the rolling hills of northwestern New Jersey and flows through some of the earliest settled areas of the country. The river is located in the glacier-carved Highlands Region, the physiographic characteristics of which are much different from the rest of the state. This river is affectionately known locally as the “Musky”.
The higher elevations of the watershed along with the numerous coldwater springs flowing from limestone geology in the lower section of the river, serve to cool the Musconetcong and provide rich alkalinity resulting in healthy fish and insect populations. These spring sources also aid in lessening some of the impacts of the river’s upstream impairments. Extensive portions of the river corridor and tributaries are on state lands that provide desirable riparian buffers to filter runoff to the stream. Many of these waters are healthy enough to sustain Eastern brook trout populations, the region’s only native trout. In fact, the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife recently identified at least one tributary of the Musconetcong as having heritage strain brook trout, genetically unique fish remaining from the receding Wisconsin Glacier over 10,000 years ago. Roughly 26 miles of this 42 mile long river are under the national Wild & Scenic designation, and the watershed encompasses some 158 square miles in the Delaware drainage. Because the river water mixes with the limestone aquifer, it provides drinking water for both the local communities within the watershed as well as downstream users that draw water from the Delaware River.
The Musconetcong River watershed lies in close proximity to the New York City metropolitan area, and has seen dramatic growth in recent years that has resulted in significant environmental impacts. Water quality in the headwaters of the Musconetcong is compromised by a highly urbanized landscape. Unrestricted building practices have contributed to high phosphorus levels from aging septic fields, unregulated stormwater runoff, unnaturally warm stream temperatures and erosion. After flowing through developed areas, the river enters agricultural lands that are primarily managed for row crops. The lack of streamside vegetation along this section of the river causes additional water quality degradation. In addition, a large number of obsolete Colonial era dams prevent fish passage, add thermal pollution, create unnatural upstream wetlands and prevent passage of sediment.
The limestone groundwater systems that serve as the primary supply of consumer water in the region will be impacted as development continues to spread and greater amounts of water are withdrawn from the aquifers. The continued expansion of impervious surfaces created by this development will also negatively impact these aquifers by effectively sealing vast recharge areas, unless land use practices are closely observed and managed. The expanding growth of housing development is now beginning to spread downstream into the historic agricultural areas and the associated impacts will compound existing impairments.
Description of Project
The Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative is focused primarily on: (1) protecting existing high quality native and wild trout habitat through land purchases and conservation easements; (2) implementing “brook trout friendly” development practices for areas where land protection efforts are not possible; (3) restoring habitat by improving agricultural land management practices through activities such as streambank fencing, riparian tree plantings, and dam removals; and (4) engaging communities, TU grassroots members, and youth (including numerous Trout in the Classroom programs) in the protection and restoration of the Musconetcong River.