Along the Delaware Day 5: An interview with Lucia Ruggiero, American Littoral Society in Bridgeton, NJ

Faces of Rivers: A profile series from American Rivers

This interview is part of the American Rivers’ Along the Delaware tour. Day five of the tour was in Bridgeton, NJ.

American Rivers: Green infrastructure on school properties in Bridgeton is addressing municipal stormwater runoff and engaging citizens, and future citizens. How has school department partnering, and the related community engagement, helped Bridgeton address its stormwater management? What other community-based partners have contributed to this program and in what ways?

Lucia Ruggiero

Lucia Ruggiero: Partnering with schools is huge for us. Schools tend to cover lots of land, and have large buildings and parking lots. In Bridgeton we are managing three acres of bioretention, keeping stormwater out of storm drains and the local stream. It also helps with groundwater recharge, and filters pollutants. Our rain gardens remove about 210 lbs/tss per year. This is important, since the water quality of the Cohansey River has been declining.

We have worked with a variety of partners, including Gateway Community Action Partnership and NJ Future. Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Water Resource Program does our engineered designs. Plus, we’ve partnered with local churches, scouts, and nature clubs.

AR: Do you have a favorite story that marked program success and community and municipal leadership appreciation of green stormwater infrastructure’s multiple benefits?

LR: I love that the mayor attended one of our rain barrel workshops and then installed rain barrels at his home. It’s so important for young people to see leaders embracing these solutions.

Installing a rain garden in Bridgeton

Also, I mentioned how we work with schools which cover a lot of land, but we can also have an impact with smaller pieces of land. We created a “stormwater pocket park” in a vacant lot between two churches. People used it to park their cars, and there were flooding issues. We worked with a school and students planted native plants and installed a rain garden. Now, it’s great to see people taking selfies in front of the garden, and great to see people enjoying it as part of the community.

AR: The story in Bridgeton has gained a spotlight. Are you sharing the program’s successes with towns up and downstream? What would you say about school department partnering through green stormwater to mayors looking for clean water solutions?

LG: We worked with Partnership for the Delaware Estuary to do a workshop for teachers, and from there we had teachers wanting to create rain gardens at their schools. Through the William Penn Foundation and NFWF, we also work with a number of other organizations, like the South Jersey Land and Water Trust, ANJEC, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance who help promote GSI in other watersheds.

To mayors looking at whether to partner with schools for clean water solutions, I would say, do it! Schools everywhere across the country can do this. The important thing is to work together. Your local DPW, school facilities team, and community organizations can all help to install and maintain GSI. There are so many benefits for clean water and beyond.

AR: Are there benefits to these natural infrastructure projects that go beyond stormwater management?

LG: It’s wonderful to be able to add an education factor. Our education coordinator, Zach Nickerson, can go into the school and talk with a class, or their environmental club or garden club. The students can learn about the project, why it’s important, and help participate in the design phase. And, these projects help beautify their school. They also provide a cooling element, because we plant trees which provide shade. These projects create the opportunity for outdoor classrooms — in a rain garden, you can learn about pollinators, you can measure how fast the water collects and drains. You can also incorporate the connection to healthy food. We’ve worked with several garden clubs to install cisterns that collect water from rooftops. Instead of running off, it’s reused to help grow healthy food on school campuses. We’ve also worked to install two edible riparian buffers-they provide all the benefits of a streamside riparian buffer planting, with the added bonus of incorporating native fruit trees and shrubs.

Stories about protecting and restoring our nation’s rivers and streams. How will you get involved?