West Brook Preserve Restoration Project
Photos courtesy of Steven Aaron and Sandy Urgo
About The West Brook Preserve
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey completed the purchase of a 170-acre property in West Milford known as the West Brook Preserve. The West Brook Preserve is one of the most important watershed properties remaining in the State of New Jersey and contains the source of the West Brook, one of the primary sources of water for the Wanaque Reservoir, which provides two million New Jersey residents drinking water. The Preserve contains a valley with steep rocky hillsides, vast wetlands, and a Category One trout production stream, a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection designation indicating clean, high quality water.
“The Land Conservancy of New Jersey is grateful to each of our partners and private donors who banded together to protect the West Brook Preserve and clean drinking water for two million New Jersey residents,” stated The Land Conservancy of New Jersey President, David Epstein. “This is one of the most important remaining unprotected watershed properties remaining in the state, and by permanently preserving it, we are securing clean water, open space, and new recreational opportunities for future residents of West Milford, Passaic County, and New Jersey.”
The Land Conservancy purchased the West Brook Preserve for $975,000, with funding being provided by the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Passaic River Coalition, the Green Acres Program, the New Jersey Highlands Council, the Victoria Foundation, the PSE&G Foundation, the Union Foundation, the E.J. Grassman Trust, and twenty five individual donors who provided $266,000 in private contributions.
The Land Conservancy will remove a house from the property, create a parking lot, and develop hiking trails within the Preserve. Additionally, studies will continue to restore the natural hydrology of the Preserve, which has been damaged by past construction.
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 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.