Panel to investigate ways to reduce contaminants, help clammers

FREEHOLD, NJ – Since 2006, a small portion of the Navesink River near Red Bank has been off-limits to clammers due to nonpoint source pollution.

The Monmouth County Planning Board and the Monmouth County Health Department want to help reduce coliform levels and possibly ease restrictions to clammers. A committee has been formed to determine why a plan that could eventually become an amendment to the Monmouth County Water Quality Management Plan has not yet been approved by the state and what the county can do to help.

“The Navesink River continues to have high bacteria counts as a result of storm water discharges that threaten public health and degrade the commercial and recreational value of the river,” said Freeholder John D’Amico, who asked the Planning Board recommend ways to improve the situation. “Bacteria laden storm water produced by rainfall is the main culprit. As a result, the water quality of the Navesink River has worsened and productive shellfish waters have been closed.”

Since 1997, shellfishing has been permitted during the winter in a limited area east of the Oceanic Bridge where the excellent water quality does not necessitate further purification of the shellfish by depuration or offshore relay.

“In order to clean areas west of the bridge sufficiently enough so that the seasonally approved shellfishing area can expand, there needs to be significant reduction in stormwater contamination,” said Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry, who along with D’Amico serves on the Planning Board. With good cooperation between the county and the municipalities in the Navesink/Swimming River watershed, and better enforcement of ordinances, additional measures can be taken to protect the public health and improve the water quality in that area.”

A committee comprised of experts from the Monmouth County Planning Board, Health Department, Division of Engineering and Rutgers Cooperative Extension is going to look into the issue and see, for example, why a state Department of Environmental Protection plan that was done in response to the shutdown of shellfish harvesting near Red Bank – a Total Maximum Daily Load for total coliform bacteria – is still awaiting final approval since 2006.

“It is my hope that the Navesink panel, called the Navesink Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Committee, will become a model for addressing stormwater pollution in other Monmouth County estuaries, including the Shrewsbury, Shark and Manasquan,” D’Amico said.