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Battling Bacteria in the Navesink: Fair Haven Teens Have a Plan

Story Lauren Bennett

Boating, fishing, and crabbing—all are familiar activities along the Navesink River. But these summertime staples are being threatened by human fecal matter that’s entering the river from storm sewers after it rains. Tyler Lubin and Noah Tucker are juniors at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School who have devised a plan to prevent fecal matter from entering the Navesink. The determined 17-year-olds have been researching this issue since February, when they first learned about its severity.

Lubin says that both he and Tucker enjoy fishing and crabbing in the river, and he received an article from his friend that explained how the water quality was worsening. He said that 500 acres along the river was recently downgraded to “prohibited” status for shellfishing. “We realized that this probably means that we shouldn’t be eating the fish that feed on the bottom of the river either, so we wanted to do something to help it,” Lubin says.

Just as it has for other locals, the Navesink has become a favorite spot for the boys’ families. Tucker says that his mother likes to take his two dogs down to the river for a swim, but when she found out that there was human fecal matter in the water, she decided she wouldn’t keep bringing the dogs to play in the river.

Lubin explains that the duo began their research by educating themselves about fecal coliform bacteria and then looking into similar cases to see how others have approached the problem. He also says that they looked at reports to see when fecal coliform bacteria was highest in the river—they discovered it was the highest in the summer and also right after a rain storm.

“So we figure,” Lubin says, “Possibly, that the fecal coliform bacteria is getting into the river due to the water supply.”

The teens learned from their online research that a possible solution to this problem are devices that filter the water that enters storm drains, called “‘filter socks.” They found filter socks that were specifically for fecal contamination—Filtrexx enviroSoxx with BactoLoxx. They attach to sewers so that any water entering the sewer would be filtered. The BactoLoxx agent that would be added to the filter socks increases the collection of fecal coliform bacteria from an average of 72% to 99%, according to Lubin.

The filter socks have not yet been installed by Tucker and Lubin, but they are gearing up for it to happen soon. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy the filter socks, and they are slightly more than $1000 away from their goal of $6500. Once they reach that goal, they will be able to install about 100 filters. If they end up raising more money, they will just continue buying and installing filters. Approval from Rumson and Fair Haven is also needed before they can be installed, but the boys are confident that they will be allowed to go forth with their plan. Tucker’s rowing coach, Chris Seslar, is also a marine biologist and is helping them get approval. The pair has also spoken with Kyle Clonan, a staff advisor for the Monmouth County Division of Planning. “He [Clonan] basically gave us a plan and he guided us in the right direction of how to get approval from each town so we think we will be able to do it,” says Tucker. Lubin has also been in contact with a representative from Filtrexx, whom Lubin says is supportive of the project and is willing to help them find the best filters for the best locations so they won’t be in the way of traffic on the street.

Once the filters are put into place, their efficacy will be measured by how much fecal coliform bacteria is found in the river. Tucker and Lubin said that they’re going to measure the levels before and after a rainstorm, and compare the results to levels from before the filters were installed. Lubin says that even though there is fecal coliform bacteria in there river right now, the real problem is that it keeps getting replenished from the runoff from the sewers.

“If it stopped getting replenished, the river would fix itself,” says Tucker. “The problem is that every time it rains, more of this fecal contamination is washed into the river.”

The river is able to clean itself out; that’s why Tucker and Lubin are confident that these filters will work, because they prevent the fecal matter from entering the river in the first place.

Seslar, who is beginning a Master’s degree this fall in the areas of marine and environmental biology and public policy, has spoken with Tucker about possible issues they might run into when implementing the filters. He’s also given him advice on how to go about overcoming them.

“I believe the project has very serious potential to, at the very least, make people question our practices when it comes to how we treat the environment.”

– Chris Seslar

Seslar also said that these filters have been implemented successfully in other towns, and with further research and the aid of surrounding communities, this technology could be used in the near future to control pollutants that enter the Navesink from various sources. He also believes the project has the potential to branch out to other sectors of water quality, such as eutrophication from fertilizer runoff.

The duo believes that the source of the contamination is coming from farther down the river in the Red Bank and Middletown areas, but they are collecting funds in the general area of Rumson and Fair Haven because they feel that the fecal matter in the water has become their problem. Tucker says that because they use the river for fun in the summer, the contamination is affecting the activities they usually participate in.

The students’ futures are looking bright. Tucker hopes to major in environmental studies in college, and Lubin wants to go for business and economics, though he says he’s not quite sure what he wants to do in life. “Once we get the funds we need, this project is really gonna take off, so from there maybe if I find a great liking in this, you never know,” hints Lubin.

Seslar describes the duo as “selfless”, and says that they are in a position where they can truly make changes to better the environment. “The health of our rivers and communities is a very serious issue that is being addressed by professional scientists,” says Seslar. “Sometimes, however, it takes the involvement of young community members to draw attention to such an issue.”

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