Report: Sewer leaks behind human waste in the Navesink

by Russ Zimmer, originally posted on November 30, 2016


The evidence points to multiple sanitary sewer leaks or faulty septic systems in Red Bank, Fair Haven and Middletown as the sources of the untreated human waste that is dirtying the Navesink River, according to a new report from Clean Ocean Action.

The report, which was made public at a Wednesday night community meeting, relies on data gathered by a trio of uniquely trained dogs that visited the area earlier this fall.

Sable, Remi and Logan of Environmental Canine Services, based in Maine, alerted in tandem on at least 33 locations in the three riverfront municipalities in September. The dogs either detected no contamination or disagreed on the presence of human waste at more than 50 other spots.

The new results established five water bodies and tributaries that feed into the Navesink — Schwenker’s Pond, Shippees Pond, McClees Creek, Haskell Pond and Shadow Lake — as corrupted, likely by sanitary sewer leaks.

Some areas of concern were more alarming than others, as indicated by this passage in the report pertaining to a probable broken sewer line on Marion Road in Red Bank.

“It is likely that it has collapsed and is leaking sewage into the stormwater infrastructure below it, which carries the sewage down the stormwater system to Harrison Avenue, then to the east on River Road to Schwenker’s Pond, which drains to Shippees Pond, which discharges to the Navesink River,” the report states. “This is potentially a large and potent source of human sewage contamination to Schwenker’s Pond, Shippees Pond, and the Navesink River. Therefore it is recommended that further investigations be given high priority.”

How can dogs tell?

As seen in the video above, these dogs use their powerful sense of smell to detect even the faintest traces of human fecal contamination in water.

By alerting their handlers, the dogs provide information that can then help investigators more precisely pinpoint the sources of human waste, which has been a contributor to a gradual degradation of water quality in the Navesink.

Using dogs in this way provides quicker and less expensive results than water sampling, which has also been a key part of the joint investigation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

What do the results mean?

This probe was triggered after the state placed 566 acres of shellfishing beds in the Navesink off limits to clammers in February because of high counts of fecal bacteria in the water. In contrast to south Jersey, most of the shellfishing areas in Monmouth County require depuration, if harvesting is allowed at all. Deputration is a process for sequestering shellfish in clean water so they can purify themselves.

That designation shouldn’t be applied to other forms of seafood or used to draw conclusions on whether its safe for people to come in contact with the water.

However, an analysis by the Asbury Park Press of U.S. EPA data found that 1 in 11 water quality samples taken from the Navesink from 2011 through 2015 exceeded safe swimming levels of fecal coliform

Contaminated water, especially if it contains human waste, is dangerous because it’s more likely to contain pathogens that can cause gastrointestinal illnesses as well as respiratory, skin, eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases.

Clean Ocean Action recommends that Red Bank, Fair Haven and Middletown look into damaged sanitary sewer pipes, possible faulty septic systems, cross-connections or septic discharges in the areas where the data shows human waste may be emanating from.

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