Students working with Dr. Heather Fenyk MCRP ’00, PhD ’13, partnered with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, South River Green Team, and the Middlesex County Office of Planning to create detailed documentation of demographics, health, housing security, and water infrastructure in South River in preparation for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Resilience Grant. Special attention was paid to South River’s Census Tract 69, where life expectancy is the lowest in Middlesex County.
The research was designed to support South River’s participation in the NJDEP grant, future resilience in the face of extreme weather events, and future grant seeking. With the goal of equitable health outcomes in resilience planning, our team researched and addressed linkages between public health, water issues, and housing security in South River. The team identified three categories of issues South River must address moving forward: regional planning, design, and community development. Importantly, the issues are multidimensional and require partnerships across sectors.
The report concludes that the community has a “Water Story” that explains much of the inequity. The tract is susceptible to tidal flooding, storm and wastewater contamination, and it lacks safe water for both recreation and potable use. The report states:
… the community’s relationship with water is the result of human intervention and, in some cases, the lack of action by those responsible. South River´s water story shows that many of the issues the community faces today are related to aspects of water infrastructure and governance. Water is a fundamental human right. Individuals use it for different daily day tasks (drink, wash, cook etc.). In this sense, how the water is stored, treated, and location of storage (for example, whether the storage is affected by contaminants or environmental issues), make clear that water management processes are relevant for a healthy life.