The North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council is a non-profit 501c(3) organization that was initiated in 1962 to help people care for and protect their natural resources to improve an area’s economy, environment and living standards. The RC&D provides a way for local residents to work together and plan how they can actively solve environmental, economic and social problems facing their communities. Today, the program continues to successfully deliver coordinated resource conservation and rural development assistance. One such effort of the RC&D is the River Friendly Farm certification program, which is a voluntary program that assists farmers in identifying areas for improvement to help protect our water resources. The RC&D also works in projects for land conservation, watershed management, and agricultural sustainability.
Similarly, the Musconetcong Watershed Association serves to protect one of the most important hydrological resources in New Jersey, bringing the community together to work towards preserving and protecting the Musconetcong watershed. The MWA was formed in 1992 by local residents who were concerned about preserving the watershed’s unique natural and cultural resources, and how they were being managed by state and local authorities. The founders saw a need for a locally-based program, composed of individuals from different backgrounds that held a common goal of promoting a watershed-based approach to land and river resource management. The MWA was instrumental in making the Musconetcong River a high priority for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Green Acres land acquisition program in the 1990s, and ultimately in achieving the federal designation of “Wild and Scenic” for the Musconetcong in 2006. Current efforts of the MWA include public educational programs, river clean-ups, local and municipal outreach, and the beginning of an extensive campaign to remove obsolete dams that disconnect the flow of the Musconetcong and negatively impact its water quality.
The fact that these two organizations have occupied the same office since early 2015 only makes sense. The compatibility of the organizations definitely plays an important role in regards to interaction between them, with everything from utilities of the dually-occupied building, to even employees’ roles being more of a shared commodity. Since the RC&D’s 2015 move from its Far Hills office location in Somerset County, it has shared the River Resource Center in Asbury, NJ with the MWA. The River Resource Center has become a readily-identifiable landmark within the town of Asbury, and really ties both organizations into the community.
The similar strengths and backgrounds of employees of the North Jersey RC&D and the MWA has lent itself to some employees “wearing two hats” and splitting their roles between both organizations’ efforts. Aside from those employees that strictly work for each respective organization, three employees fall under the category of working between the two organizations. Kyle Richter, a watershed coordinator working between the RC&D and the MWA, coordinates educational outreach programs events, and also works in the establishment of rain gardens to control storm water run-off. Nancy Lawler, a water quality program coordinator, serves as a consultant to the North Jersey RC&D while working for the MWA. Brenda Berardo, the budget manager for the RC&D, also currently shares time between the RC&D and the MWA. Similar and interchangeable skill sets allow these individuals to be assets to both organizations, and enable them to function to the highest level.
The River Resource Center has its own history. In 1998, the MWA received ownership of the Asbury Gristmill property, which included a small 2150 square foot concrete block storehouse, which was essentially the shell of a building without a roof. The building has since been renovated into the River Resource Center, an administrative headquarters and environmental education center dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of the Musconetcong River Watershed and its natural and cultural resources. The River Resource Center is also an important community center, where local residents can come to receive a wide arrange of stewardship services, and take part in cooperative outreach projects within the watershed. In-house projects routinely take place at, or are based out of the River Resource Center, such as rain barrel workshops, native plant sales, and river clean-ups, just to name a few. A strong, centralized presence in the community has been established as a result of the RRC, and is important aspect of the building that is provided to both the MWA and the RC&D.
The building certainly shows the commitment to the conservation of natural resources that embodies both organizations that occupy it. In June 2010, the River Resource Center was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification, the highest level of recognition possible. LEED measures the effectiveness of the technologies and strategies that have been incorporated throughout the site and building. Some of the ways the River Resource Center was able to meet this distinguished level of certification was through the usage of recycled building materials (and recycling the majority of construction waste), the use of Clivus-Multrum composting toilets (which reduces potable water use and eliminates generation of wastewater), and the use of a geothermal system to heat and cool the building (using the steady temperature of groundwater to heat and cool the building without the need for fossil fuels). Since moving into the building, the RC&D has shared the remaining lowered utility costs with the MWA, which also provides a token economic incentive for the two organizations to share the building.
Both the North Jersey RC&D and the MWA play essential roles in the conservation of natural resources in the New Jersey Highlands region, as well as the Musconetcong watershed. The compatibility that exists between the organizations that allows them to share the same headquarters, costs, and employees, is essential to their success. The fact that the River Resource Center has been awarded the highest level of LEED certification possible doesn’t hurt either. The North Jersey RC&D and the MWA look forward to a continued bright future in the conservation and preservation of natural resources and water quality in the region.