SRS RN Track 2 - Aligning upstream and downstream: increasing equity in watershed management with and for underrepresented communities

  • Tchen, John J.K. (PI)
  • Maher, Neil (CoPI)
  • Vanabs, Daniel D. (CoPI)
  • Fennell, Donna (CoPI)
  • Rowe, Amy A. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The goal is to plan an inclusion and equity framework to improve regional strategies for research, planning, and water resource management thereby increasing effective cross-community and cross-stakeholder water resources stewardship for the Passaic River Basin (PRB). This project is working with 'upstream' Munsee Lunaape Elders and with 'downstream' disenfranchised communities, notably African American and pan-Latin American neighborhoods in Newark (and Greater Newark) to promote the values of equity and environmental justice. The Passaic River flows through Northern New Jersey and Southeastern New York State encompassing ten counties, and numerous urban and peri urban municipalities. This region was among the earliest US industrial centers, based on a combination of waterpower, water supply, estuarine ports, all adjacent to rapidly expanding New Yor City. Over time these activities resulted in pollution of the urban water supply and consequent shift of water supply to areas further upstream to areas within the basin. As a result of this pollution, the Ramapough Turtle Clan settlement at Upper Ringwood has been twice-designated Superfund site. 2020 EPA studies have confirmed the ongoing danger. Dangerous pollution within the basin, disinvestment, and decline of industry have left the PRB communities with high proportions of disadvantaged peoples living and working in toxic and vulnerable sites. In the Newark area, pollution sources include water pollutants of the entire Basin upstream impacting reservoirs. Downstream industrial pollutants include dioxin discharges from a facility making herbicides, used in making Agent Orange, and lead pipes. The vision in this project is to enhance sustainability of the PRB and its environs through an inclusive approach that engages the disadvantaged communities and other stakeholders in PRB leading to remediation activities to restore the water quality and improve quality of life for the entire community.

While the PRB upstream and downstream communities had little prior interconnection, they are interlinked by the area's growing urban centers that depend on the Passaic River Basin for water supply. Aligning upstream and downstream communities will: a) develop a community of practice centered on equity; b) enable asset mapping of water system members; c) promote relationships of co-learning; and d) develop a participatory, sustainable, equity-led approach. It is this combination of shared interest in good water quality and addressing past exclusions that provide an opportunity for collaborative learning and shared development of approaches, notably interlinked via The Price Institute with the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), with their Cooperative Extension (NJAES). This planning grant will begin to cultivate a culture of stewardship among and between local communities and interests for the health and sustainability of the water system and ongoing connection to regional leaders. During implementation, historically marginalized communities will increase knowledge and application of water science, engagement, and public resource stewardship. More local research involvement for more data inputs and insights will also improve the accuracy, nuance, and understanding of the PRB. A community of shared research interests will promote an ethic of greater equity and inclusion.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date2/15/221/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $150,000.00


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