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What we can do to keep the Garden State beautiful?

Dr. Matthew Schuler, Assistant Professor of Biology, wrote this opinion piece for in honor of Earth Day

Posted in: Biology, In The Media

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Today is Earth Day. We celebrate this amazing planet and renew calls for actions to protect our environment through personal, local, political, and global change.
New Jersey offers sandy beaches, breathtaking hiking trails, and more but it’s also home to two major metropolitan areas and is the most densely populated state in the country. Urbanization, pollution, and extreme weather events caused by climate change are affecting New Jersey in several ways – and they’re all connected.

To keep the Garden State beautiful, we must increase our efforts to build more green spaces, protect our freshwaters, and improve public infrastructure.

Urbanization and a lack of adequate public transportation have led to an increase in impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots. During major storm events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity, these surfaces funnel water to low-lying areas and the water pools above ground instead of soaking into the soil.
Thus, impervious surfaces lead to more intense flooding events that not only damage infrastructures such as homes and cars but also damage ecosystems. Compounding the problem is the fact that we have narrowed our streams and removed important wetlands that would be able to absorb a lot of water from these intense storms.

These flood events also wash sewage, loose vegetation, and chemical pollutants into freshwater environments. One type of chemical contaminant, de-icing solutions such as sodium chloride (i.e., rock salt), has dramatically increased in use over the past 60 years.

Every year during colder months, millions of tons of salt-based de-icing solutions are applied to roads and parking lots across New Jersey. More than 50% of the salt applied to impervious surfaces is washed directly into freshwaters, and most of the remaining salts end up in groundwater.

I recently contributed to a study showing that salt pollution in freshwater ecosystems is increasing worldwide and government guidelines are failing to protect freshwater lakes from salt pollution. Increased sodium and chloride in our drinking water is bad for human health and once freshwater is too salty to drink, removing the salt can cost billions of dollars and take decades. Increased salt concentrations in freshwaters also negatively affect organisms from algae to fish, resulting in a collapse of ecosystem function and reduced benefits that these ecosystems provide to humans.

See what Dr. Schuler suggests we do to improve this issue on