When It Rains, It Pours

Reserve Develops Stormwater Management Tools
Photo: Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JC NERR).

The Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JC NERR), located in the southeast corner of New Jersey, is regarded as one of the least disturbed areas in the densely populated northeast coast of the United States. The reserve encompasses approximately 115,000 acres of diverse terrestrial, wetland, and aquatic habitats in and around the estuary where fresh water from the Mullica River and saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean mix in Great Bay. The lands that comprise the reserve are managed as a partnership of state, federal and local non-profit landholders. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, through its Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, is the managing institution for the reserve.

Named for the famed ocean explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, the reserve was established in 1997 to improve management of New Jersey's coastal environments. The Cousteau reserve is one of 27 National Estuarine Research Reserves throughout the country. JC NERR conducts scientific research, hosts education and interpretive programs, and encourages stewardship of New Jersey's unique natural resources. Core programs focus on key challenges facing New Jersey coastal waters and estuarine systems such as the effects of human alteration and climate change.

Photo: Coastal Community.

Effective and properly engineered stormwater management systems represent one of the most important water resource protection strategies available to coastal communities. With a grant from the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a team from Rutgers University and JC NERR is working to improve watershed-scale management of stormwater by developing a suite of internet-based geospatial tools coupled to a database management system. Named the Stormwater Management & Planning Tool (SWMPT), the website provides a watershed-wide, geospatial inventory of existing stormwater management infrastructure such as catch-basins, detention ponds, and infiltration areas. The SWMPT also includes models to determine drainage areas and stream flow paths and display basins that are in need of mitigation.

The impetus for launching SWMPT is based on scientific evidence that increasing development of coastal watersheds and barrier islands has altered groundwater and surface runoff patterns. These factors have led to the progressive eutrophication of freshwater tributaries and adjacent coastal waters. Unfortunately, in most cases, new development projects are evaluated in a vacuum, with only minimal consideration of the cumulative impacts on water resources at the watershed scale. SWMPT was designed to provide comprehensive information on how new development projects may combine with existing stormwater infrastructure to impact surface and groundwater flows.

According to Michael De Luca, senior associate director of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, "results of this initiative will enable counties and local communities to target stormwater basins which are not functioning well for retrofit using best available technologies. Given the high cost of a retrofit (about $100,000), and the high number of stormwater basins in Ocean County (more than 2000), it's imperative that we allocate limited funding to restoration strategies that will have the most effect on improving quality of coastal waters in peril such as Barnegat Bay."

The project team is working with municipal and state officials in Ocean County, NJ to develop and demonstrate an accessible prototype of SWMPT using data from the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor watershed.

To learn more about JC NERR and this important SWMPT project, visit their website.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences