August 21, 2013

Insect life in restored river channels in the Musky

An underwater close up of cased caddis covering a rock in a restored site on the Musky

When TU takes on a river channel restoration project, we do so with the utmost care for the river’s health.  We work on channels that have been degraded and hold excess sediment due to past land use practices.  These include farming too closely to the stream, channelization, removal of stream side vegetation that leads to eroding banks, or when a dam is removed and the upstream impoundment requires channel restoration.  Working closely with our partners at the Musconetcong Watershed Association and using a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, we are studying the effects of these projects over a three year time frame that began earlier this year.  We will be studying the sites using baseline data and then post restoration data gleaned over the 3 year period.  In our study, insects (benthic macro invertebrates), pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and turbidity will be tested amongst other water quality indicators.  Our goal is to demonstrate the effectiveness of these projects for the overall health of the river.

By manipulating the bed of the river with a wide track machine, we remove excess sediment that has covered up insect life in the channel over decades and this flush of sediment is what sets up the habitat for greatly increased insect life.  Just as importantly as removing excess sediment is making the natural processes of the river function properly again so that the channel no longer fills itself in with sediment.  This creates a “biological lift” to greatly increase the health of the river and it impacts the river over more than just the restored stretch as our studies are beginning to demonstrate.  Stay tuned for published details of our studies in coming months.

July 18, 2013

TU and partners win the Presidential Coastal America Award

The beautiful but seldom seen Musconetcong Gorge on the lower river

The Musconetcong River Restoration Partnership has been awarded the coveted President’s Coastal America Award for its efforts to remove dams and restore fish habitat on the lower river.  This award will be presented by a member of the Administration to the Partners on Friday, September 13th at 1 pm at a ceremony next to the removed Finesville dam on the lower river. The Partnership includes: Trout Unlimited, Musconetcong Watershed Association, American Rivers, NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, North Jersey Resource and Conservation Development, National Park Service (Wild & Scenic Rivers), and our various landowners that we work with to remove dams and restore degraded channels and eroded banks.  To date, the Partnership has lowered one stone dam dating to the late 1790s, removed two wood coffer dams dating to the late 1800s as well as restoring the river channel in the Reigelsville area, and removed the concrete Finesville dam and the channel upstream of that former dam.  These blockages prevented anadromous fish species like American shad, river herring, striped bass, and American eels from getting upstream to their favored spawning reaches for nearly 200 years or more in some cases.  Wild brown trout in the Delaware River may now also enter the lower Musky (nickname for the Musconetcong River) and spawn in the lower reaches this fall. 

The Partnership has sets its sights on removal of the Hughesville Mill and Warren Glen Mill dams next.  Significant work has been done to secure permits for removal of the Hughesville Mill dam which is currently the first blockage above the Delaware River now that the other lower dams have been removed.  Removal of the 35 1/2’ tall Warren Glen Mill dam will once again open up the Musconetcong Gorge in its entirety for the first time since at least the 1880s when a paper mill built a dam there to power the mill.

April 14, 2013

Annual Musky Clean Up Day

A crew of TU volunteers loads a pick up to haul off to a central pick up location

Today was the annual clean up of the Musconetcong River.  This annual clean up, led by our partners at the Musconetcong Watershed Association, will have seen more than 300 volunteers come out to clean up the river and the surrounding roads throughout the watershed.  TU volunteers from all over New Jersey came out to help clean this Wild & Scenic River and later enjoyed a fine afternoon of fly fishing during the Grannom caddis hatch on the “Musky” while others hopped over the mountain to fish the South Branch Raritan where Hendrickson mayflies were hatching and the trout were looking up.  Here are some pictures from the day…

April 23, 2012

Clean up on aisle 7…

Garbage removed from the Stephensburg Road area down to the former Cliffdale Inn property in Mansfield Twp.

Two recent clean up efforts took place on the Musconetcong (Musky) River under TU’s Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative.  TU partnered with the Musconetcong Watershed Association on their 20th annual river clean up on Saturday, April 14th.  While final tallies of volunteer numbers and total tonnage of trash are still being calculated, suffice to say we had over 300 volunteers cleaning up along the roads, river banks and river’s channel along the 42 mile long river.  Given last year’s fall floods, there was lots of large and small debris alike in need of removal.

Volunteers from several New Jersey TU chapters were on hand from top to bottom of the watershed, helping to wade out into the river to haul off tires and other debris in celebration of an early Earth Day.

The second project used Urbani Fisheries from Bozeman, MT to remove large trees that fell into the channel following Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee last September, the highest and third highest ever recorded flows, respectively.  These trees hung up on the recently-removed lower two wood coffer remnant dams on the Riegelsville section of the river, only a half mile above the Delaware River which the Musky drains into.  Typically, the presence of large, woody debris such as these trees is welcome addition to aquatic habitat, but several trees threatened to widen the channel and direct flows into a long closed hydro power flume and into a local farm field after hanging up on the new structures that were built after the dams were removed last August, 2011.  Sections of the trees were chainsawed into manageable lengths while the large track machine removed them and placed them on the banks to help build back those banks in time as well as provide wildlife habitat.  Some tree sections were left in the river channel to provide aquatic habitat while the two stone weirs that replaced the former wood coffer dams were tweaked as needed to prevent this occurrence in future floods.

Some of the large trees blocking the channel in Riegelsville.

Trees downed by storms

Here you can see some of the chain saw’s efforts to cut trees into easier to handle sections.

These two trees provided a channel block that formed during Hurricane Irene which threatened a local farmer’s fields from cutting a new channel.

Sawing trees to remove from river

Here’s some shots as the work was finished.  Just last night, in fact, we got a heavy rain storm that brought the river up to near bank full and the newly deposited fine sediments on these restored point bars will have some native seeds mixed in to help green up those bars as the water recedes and summer approaches.

Many of the trees are now placed on the bank on river left to help rebuild that bank over time.

And looking upstream at the finished product.  Two of the three removed dams are in the lower photo with the third just out of view at the top of the river in the photo.

Musconetcong river following cleanup

March 06, 2012

Musconetcong River channel restoration projects completed

TU’s Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative Coordinator, Brian Cowden, reports that a total of one mile of the 42 mile Musconetcong River was restored in late February using Natural Resource Conservation Service’s WHIP (wildlife habitat incentive program) funds and NJTU state council funding on 3 sites on the upper and middle river in Mansfield and Washington (Warren Cty). 

These projects were chosen for their impact to restore sections of river channel greatly affected by man’s interference over past decades. The 1/3 mile section of river restored in lower Mansfield Township behind the Cliffdale property (most recently Cassia Grill) has widened by as much as a third since heavy development was allowed along the river to facilitate large scale box stores within 150’ of the river upstream of this project site.  All of that impervious cover flashes the river during run-off, causing it to widen, shallow and fill with sediment.  At the downstream site in Washington and Hampton below route 31, the river channel was actually straightened (channelized) most likely during the 1920s and 30s when such practices were common in an attempt to reduce flooding.  This wreaks havoc on the channel in the straightened reach as well as far downstream, causing widened and shallow channels that are ““simplified”” and lack structure that holds both aquatic macro invertebrates as well as trout and bait fish. These sections were chosen for their unique restoration needs as demonstration projects in the watershed under the Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative.
During channel restoration, the river is narrowed where needed using control structures, digging out of pools, addition of boulders and restored point bars to keep the river flowing and transporting sediment during low water periods.  TU employed the state of the art services of Urbani Fisheries out of Bozeman, MT for their natural approach to channel restoration and bank stabilization methods.  The Urbani team utilizes their own machine operator who only works on river restoration implementation, making their approach unique in the field. 

Here are some photos of the work:

Channel bottom prior to restoration where sediment largely covers bottom cobbles.

underwater sediment

Channel bottom after restoration.

underwater after reconstruction

Here is a view of a typical section of this simplified channel where it was overly wide, shallow, sediment laden, and lacking fish habitat in the form of pools, riffles, or pocket water.

Washington looking down

Here is a section of the river recently restored.  Here you’ll note restored point bars which narrow the channel, boulder clusters to provide habitat, as well as deeper pools to hold fish of all species. 

Washington looking up

And one of our deeper pools to provide thermal refuge, dissolved oxygen, and fish holding structure.  In this photo, the very first canoeists enjoyed paddling this restored stretch during construction.

Newly restored deep pool habitat at Homeboy pool

Stay tuned for additional photos in coming days of work performed upstream as well as more from the 7/10 mile stretch on two properties in lower Washington Twp. in Warren County near route 31.

September 07, 2011

Three Remnant Dams Removed on Lower Musky

Removing upper wood dam at Riegelsville on Musconetcong

The Musky recently saw three (3) remnant dams removed on the lower river between the Finesville dam and the Delaware River. This project was spearheaded by our partners at the Musconetcong Watershed Association who received grants for approximately $55,000 for the removal work. TU contributed an additional $10, 700 to date to restore two badly-eroded banks on properties adjacent to the upper dam to ensure the project could move forward.

These landowners initially opposed this project, citing their fears of additional erosion if the dams were removed. Only by TU stepping in to ensure them that we would use heavy equipment to repair their banks and replant them in the fall of 2011 were we able to bypass a lengthy open public meetings requirement and the loss of at least one more year.

We continue to search for minimal funding needed to plant the banks of these two properties in October or November. The dams, one dating to 1790 which was made entirely of stone and the others being wooden coffer dams dating to 1850 and 1890 respectively, once fueled grist, saw and paper mills close to the confluence with the Delaware River. All three dams were considered “low flow impediments to anadromous fish passage” and that is why they were targeted for removal. By doing so, we have improved the score for future dam removal funding from the federal agencies and helped restore species that haven’t been above these structures like American shad, striped bass and river herring in well over 100 years.

Permits are expected to arrive for the removal of the Finesville dam which may take place this year if water levels cooperate. That is the first major dam upstream of the Delaware. TU has also hired Princeton Hydro to begin feasibility studies to remove the Hughesville paper mill dam, which is dam # 2 upstream of the Delaware.

Our Musconetcong River Restoration Partnership will be meeting this fall to engage the owners of the Warren Glen and Hughesville dams to consider allowing us to fully remove those dams beyond the feasibility study at Hughesville. A recent engineering report required by DEP Dam Safety & Flood Control regarding the condition of the Warren Glen dam, the 3rd dam upstream of the Delaware and the state’s largest, has proven that this structure is in need of significant rehabilitation or removal. This dam backs up about half of the famed Musky Gorge and is half owned by the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife.