Sustainable Raritan River Conference


Jeanne Herb

Environmental Analysis and Communications Group, E.J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Rutgers University

Dr. Robert M Goodman

Executive Dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University

Dr. Michael Greenburg

Interim Dean, Edward J Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University

Jen Sennig

Student at Bloustein School Center for Green Building, Rutgers University

New Brunswick NJ - June 8, 2018

All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.

Introductory Note

This conference opening highlights three Rutgers University’s vision and commitment to supporting the health of the Raritan River, which runs right through the Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick NJ. The  following opening remarks given at the 10th Sustainable Raritan River Conference incapsulate the constructive synergy created when academics, scientists, students and local communities work together. This Rutgers conference, conceived by NWNL advisor Judy Shaw, exemplifies the potential of effective “town-and-gown” coordination.

Aerial view of the Raritan River flowing between Rutgers University, Hale Stadium and Johnson Park

The title of this 2018 conference was “Micro to Macro: The Future of the Raritan.” The morning included “Lightning Talks” discussing water quality, micro issues of emerging contaminants, and macro concerns facing basin-wide, watershed management. Following those discussions a “Data Blitz” on key Raritan issues included watershed planning, stormwater management, public access, restoration and more. Conference networking was facilitated by an onsite lunch, poster session and concluding reception.

JEANNE HERB  Hello! I’m from the Bloustein School, but also a proud alumna of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, so I like to think that I blend both. Thank you to Sara Malone and Kerry Ferraro who pull together this conference every year. They also coordinate the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative and the Rutgers Raritan River Consortium at the Internal Network Group throughout the entire year. I co-lead the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative with my colleague, Dr. Rick Lathrop.

Since this is the Tenth Sustainable Raritan River Conference, congratulations to all of you for sustaining this effort over a decade. But that work would not be possible without the leadership and the support of the Deans of the Bloustein School and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. I now introduce Deans Robert “Bob” Goodman from the School of Environmental Biological Sciences and Dean Michael “Mike” Greenburg, to whom we owe thanks for many things. For ten years those Deans have led and supported this effort both financially and emotionally, encouraging the effort, challenging us to think differently, and fostering the concept that is the theme of this conference – the science informing policy and planning. Rutgers offers a beautiful and elegant way to think about the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, the best-case study of that partnership between their two schools.

BOB GOODMAN  Jeanne, we thank you for your fine work as well. I’m thrilled to be involved in this for a decade, as Mike has been in different ways. This conference is a signature landmark initiative for our schools and Rutgers University-New Brunswick; and most importantly for what we do around the theme of community engagement. 

I look for robust measures of progress, and of success at moments like this ten-year anniversary. The measures of success of this Sustainable Raritan Initiative are really robust and really impressive.  Academically, the Raritan has become the centerpiece for a lot of new academic work, teaching, coursework, and getting folks out on the river.

Woman and child exploring shoreline of Raritan River of New Brunswick and Albany St Bridge.

We now have a new Research Vessel out on the river, for which the previous chancellor, Dick Edwards, and my office supplied most of the purchase funding.  It’s operated by Marine and Coastal Sciences.  Many of you have seen it, and I hope more and more of you will get out on it.  It had led to the engagement of many students with the Lower Raritan River.

While that vessel has been a really important asset, but this program focuses on the entire watershed, and an engagement with its community, as represented by all of you in this room. There’s also been a mobilization of resources and donors who’ve steadfastly helped support this conference and other work we do. Jim and Gretchen Johnson have led the Johnson family in its profound support for this program.

Given our academic resources and outreach, I think the things that happen at this conference are a true representation of what we do. Our new chancellor, Deba Dutta often reminds us that Rutgers University is a 1776 New Jersey land-grant institution. Under his leadership, we think and rethink about what a 21st century land-grant institution should look like – and what it should do. In that review, there is one element that will absolutely survive: service to and engagement in the community, which is not a one-way thing. It’s more than two-ways. At the very least it’s between the university, the communities, and the students from those communities that we serve.

As Jeanne has said, this annual conference is a profound example of that commitment. Since this conference has  now achieved ten years, and since we have a brand-new chancellor, I suggest that this group revisit its strategy, with a self-assessment on where you’ve come and where you should go in the future. I suggest that together we all give some consideration to our policies and planning enterprises.

So, thank you very much for being here and for all the wonderful things that you all do in your own lives and professions. 

MIKE GREENBERG  As I was thinking this morning about what to say, I decided to focus a  bit on out history. This is my 48th year at Rutgers, and I’ve been working on projects related to the Raritan River Basin longer than that. My Ph. D. thesis, when I was a student at Columbia, focused on a major water-supply drought that occurred in New Jersey and much of our eastern seaboard. It started in the early 1960’s and lasted for 36 straight months of below-average rainfall. (There are some people as old as me that will remember that!) I then built a water-supply model in order to figure out how to move water from places with surplus water to places that had a water deficit. Being a math person, when I was finished, I also worked on a water-quality model which a few people use, and which is historical.

WI saw then, however, was there was not a whole lot going on. I speculated with Henry Dallman, who is here today, about what kind of work needed to be done in the Raritan River Basin. Some of it was social science. Some of it was science.  But our big idea was to get the Upper Raritan Basin working together with the Lower Basin and to get some real science brought to bear on this watershed. 

So, walking around here this morning and seeing the posters out in the hall is just a thrill for me. To go to a meeting, look at the science, talk to people in a place where you’ve lived for more than half your life is just a wonderful thing. I will just say, “Continue the hard work. Keep grinding away at it.” You are all making an important contribution, not only to the University, but to the future of this Raritan River Basin.

JEN SENNIG  Hello, my name is Jen Sennig, and I’m at the Bloustein School at the Rutgers Center for Green Building. I would like to ask this group of participants:  “What is the global impact of the work that we’re doing here regarding the Raritan? What possibilities do we have to not only to continue to make progress here in New Jersey, but to also participate as Rutgers in spreading the wealth and forming collaborations?

MIKE GREENBERG  I have thought about that. This is a watershed. It’s a river. It’s an estuary. And it is highly populated.  There are many highly populated watersheds with rivers and really, really important estuaries all around the world. They too, for all of their own cultural, historical, topographical, and geophysical reasons are highly populated. Every one of these features is unique in its way, but there are commonalities.

You’re absolutely right, Jen, to ask your question.  Exploring those commonalities and putting a focus on international dimensions, as we as a community do here, can serve as an example, a laboratory, and an inspiration to other people around the world. Many estuaries elsewhere we already work with in various ways, including environmental impacts in the Mekong, Vietnam’s Red River, China’s Yangtze and the Nile Delta. Thanks for that question. It’s a very, very significant implication. Again, to quote our new Chancellor, “Rutgers is moving from being a university for the world to being a university of the world.”

Nile Delta at Damietta, where Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea

I hope these days, as compared to the days when I was writing my Ph. D. thesis, that a lot of your work will be taken to meetings and be published, so people will see it over the world. When I was writing papers, they were on paper. There was no such thing as computerized documents. We would get little postcards from what was then East Germany and other places asking for reprints of papers or projects that we worked on related to water supply, air quality, and so on.

But the opportunity these days for people to see what you do is really easy and really important these days. Even internationally, the opportunity is really almost boundless. I used to teach a course on industrial location economics when I was at Columbia. When I moved here, I taught that again. Now I’m teaching environmental things and have just written a book called Siting Noxious Facilities. I know that Chinese groups, Vietnamese groups, and Malaysian groups are going to be some of the major readers of this book, because they’re facing the same issues noted in Siting Noxious Facilities in their densely-developed urban areas.

If you look at history, you’ll see places that were bombed during the Vietnam War. But look at them now.  Many of those river basins have a lot of factories on them. Issues of water quality and water supply related to industrialization in other parts of the world are perhaps a lot more critical than they are here – but we were one of the greatest laboratories in the world for those issues. New Jersey was one of those places in 1960 where still almost every other job was a manufacturing job.  Now I think it’s about 4%.

So, while we have become much more of a white-collar state here, those other nations I mentioned are heavily industrialized. China is the largest manufacturer in the world. The U.S. is #2. We still manufacture things in the United States, but countries elsewhere in the world are dealing with many of the problems of urbanization, industrialization, water supply, and water quality. So, if you publish your work and go to conferences, people from the rest of the world are going to be there. They’ll pick up your work and email you, asking for consultations.

JEANNE HERB  Jennifer, your question was so great, and the dean’s response so rich. Thank you, Dean Goodman, for your challenge to to this group to reassess our plans and policies. That’s what the Rutgers Deans have done for us for ten years. We take your challenge. Today you’ll see that in our afternoon work session  Everyone will roll up their sleeves, as we have a conversation among everyone in this room.

We now have ten years of data in the form of a State of the Raritan River Report – previous work done by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority. A second volume of the State of Raritan River Report is about to come out, and the New Jersey DEP’s integrated assessment will be out very soon.  All of this data will challenge us to ask, “What next? How are we going to work together to create a comprehensive Watershed Plan for the basin?” So that will be our afternoon conversation, and that will create our framework for moving together as a group in the future. 

Now let’s get into the first session and get to work!

Posted by NWNL on December 6, 2019.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.