The New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA)
Primary Partners: Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA), Evan Madlinger (NRCS Biologist)
Location: Burnt Mills Preserve, Somerset County, New Jersey
Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA)’s Burnt Mills Dam Removal and Flood Plain Restoration project was a collaborative ecological restoration project. The project took place from Fall 2019 to Spring 2021 to improve the Lamington River at Burnt Mills. The project entailed a dam removal, wetland enhancement, and stream restoration for a section of the Lamington River, a tributary of the North Branch Raritan River in central New Jersey. The project has improved water quality; enhanced aquatic organism habitat; stabilized stream bank erosion; and reduced local flooding.
The project took place at the Burnt Mills Floodplain Preserve located in Bedminster, New Jersey. The removed dam was located upstream from the Cowperthwaite-Burnt Mill Road Bridge connecting Bedminster and Branchburg townships.
The health of the Raritan watershed and the integrity of its water systems have a direct impact on the health, safety, environment and quality of life of the region's residents. The purpose of this Burnt Mills Dam Removal and Flood Plain Restoration project was to protect our region’s headwater streams which play a critical role in controlling floods, filtering pollutants, protecting natural habitat corridors, and safeguarding food and water supplies for humans and wildlife. Studies show that dams and levees are among the greatest threats to river and wetland health and resilience, both globally and the United States. Data from RHA’s award-winning Stream Monitoring Program verified poor water quality associated with the presence of the old concrete dam as it held sediment, which was not healthy for aquatic wildlife in the Lamington River. Additionally, the pooled water behind the dam heated up extensively in summer, depleting oxygen levels. In our region, we need cool, oxygen-rich water conditions to supply clean water to residents and wildlife. Forest cover in the watershed is closely tied with the quality of water in our streams. In New Jersey, forests are suffering from a variety of stresses that are resulting in their decline in many places. With climate change, forests are exposed to extreme weather including more damaging storms as well as droughts that stress forest ecosystems. By removing invasive species and planting native trees and plants, we will be able to restore watershed health.
The Burnt Mills Dam Removal and Flood Plain Restoration project demonstrates an innovative and effective approach to water resources management utilizing science, environmental conservation, and collaboration. Ecological projects such as this can help communities across the country become more resilient to climate change and promote healthier rivers and streams. Through innovative projects such as the Burnt Mills Dam Removal and Flood Plain Restoration, communities can cultivate a watershed region that boasts healthy, accessible ground and surface water, environmentally informed citizens and policymakers, and safe, inclusive outdoor spaces for all to explore.
Key project partners were the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and American Rivers. Additional project partners include Somerset County, Trout Unlimited, and volunteer corps including corporate partners, local Boy Scout Troops, and citizen scientists who provided volunteer support for tree planting, invasive plant removal, water monitoring and site enhancements. The Burnt Mills Dam Removal and Flood Plain Restoration embodies the mission of the NJ Section and National AWRA as this project promoted collaboration amongst government agencies, environmental nonprofits, citizens, and private corporations to advance the protection of our region’s water resources through research, planning, management, and education.