West Milford, New Jersey”
Photos courtesy of Steven Aaron and Sandy Urgo
About The West Brook Preserve
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey is working to raise the final funds necessary to complete the acquisition of one of the most important privately owned watershed properties remaining in New Jersey. We have a unique opportunity to purchase and preserve a 170 acre property in West Milford Township, Passaic County that contains the headwaters of the West Brook, a Trout production, Category One Stream. The Land Conservancy proposes to acquire, own, manage and restore the property for the benefit of the residents of New Jersey. This spectacular property, which The Land Conservancy will name the West Brook Preserve, contains a valley with steep, rocky hillsides split by a vast swamp where the West Brook begins its journey down into the Wanaque Reservoir.
Why this property is so important
The Wanaque Reservoir is the largest reservoir in the state, providing clean drinking water for approximately 2 million New Jersey residents, or 22% of the state’s population. Water from the reservoir is distributed to Newark, Paterson, Kearny, Bayonne, Passaic, Wayne, Bloomfield, Clifton, Montclair, Nutley, Cedar Grove, Glen Ridge, and United Water Resources, which provides water to northern Bergen County.
The Wanaque Reservoir has three major sources – the Wanaque River (which provides approximately half of the reservoir’s water), the Passaic River (which is pumped from a station at Two Bridges and provides approximately 35%) and the West Brook (which provides approximately 15%).
Although the West Brook Preserve is a large piece of property and is near thousands of acres of public land, it is not adjacent to any publicly owned properties. For this reason, despite its importance, no public agencies want to own the property. The Land Conservancy is willing to own, manage and restore this property.
The West Brook Preserve contains vast wetlands that surround the West Brook and could act as a sink to store water and release it year round, maintaining water flows into the Wanaque Reservoir even during the driest times of the year. Unfortunately, a portion of the West Brookwas channelized in the past to facilitate the construction of a lake that was never built. This is now a large muddy ditch which is significantly impacting the hydrology of the West Brook. The ditch acts as a large drain to empty the wetlands as quickly as possible and helps to exacerbate droughts. The ditch has also become a vector for a variety of non-native, invasive species that are negatively impacting the property.
The Land Conservancy has hired hydrology experts to analyze the impact of the ditch, and recommend strategies to properly restore this portion of the West Brook back into its natural channel to optimize year round water flow into the reservoir. The Land Conservancy has experience with stream restoration. We acquired a 130 acre property in Mount Olive in 2009 where a 16 lot subdivision had been started. We removed more than a mile of roadways, two detention basins, a house foundation and reconstructed five streams that had been channelized and were discharging vast amounts of sediment into the South Branch of the Raritan River. We planted more than 1,000 native trees and seeded several acres of native wildflowers and today the streams flow clean and clear into the river.
The Land Conservancy will also demolish a dilapidated house, cap and close a well, and develop a small parking area where the house now sits by the road to allow public access to the property for recreation.
Additional Future Acquisitions
Acquiring and restoring the 170 acres of West Brook Preserve is the first phase of a multi-year, multi-property acquisition project to protect and preserve the Wanaque Reservoir watershed. The Passaic River Coalition has pledged to donate an adjacent 25 acre parcel to The Land Conservancy once the West Brook acquisition is completed. The West Brook Preserve is adjacent to more than 200 additional undeveloped acres that contain small streams that feed into the West Brook. These additional properties could potentially be acquired in the future to expand the West Brook Preserve.