NEW CENTER UNVEILED: Princeton is smack in the middle of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, a 265-square-mile area in Central New Jersey that includes parts of four other counties and 25 other towns. Providing oversight for the safety of the region’s water is the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association which unveiled this new Platinum LEED-certified Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science and Education last month. The building, designed by Farewell Architects of Princeton, opened May 2. Located in Hopewell Township on the 930 acre Watershed Reserve, the new facility is at 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington, N.J. 08534. The Watershed Reserve’s hiking trails between Hopewell and Lawrence. are open each day from dawn to dusk; Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science and Education’s hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 737-3735, or visit: www.thewatershed.org (Photo by Jeff Tryon)
With so much water falling from the skies over New Jersey, unexpected flooding in Texas, and ongoing drought in California, the topic of water is never far from public discourse.
As executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Jim Waltman is intimately connected with the water cycle and its disruption due to both global warming and a history of pollution that is the legacy of industrial New Jersey.
“In a word, we are all about water,” he said. “We teach people about water, the threats to it and what can be done to protect it.”
He has his work cut out. New Jersey has a legacy of pollution and contamination that we are still recovering from. “Two-thirds of our streams don’t meet clean water standards. Add to that, the changing climate in which we see more dry periods and periods of heavy rainfall coming in bigger bursts and you see that we need to recognize and prepare for changes in the water cycle,” he said. “Every time we build in a less environmentally thoughtful way, we make it more difficult for the natural water cycle. Changes continue apace.”
For decades, the Watershed Association has been doing its best to ameliorate this legacy.
With the unveiling of its new $5 million Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science, and Education, the Association is about to embark on its mission with renewed vigor.
“The plan is to use this new center as a demonstration area of what can be done,” said Mr. Waltman, who hopes that the center will inspire homeowners, businesses, schools, and municipalities to replicate its environmental sensitivity.
Located in Hopewell Township on the 930 acre Watershed Reserve, the new facility designed by Farewell Architects of Princeton opened May 2. With a wealth of innovative sustainable technologies, it has earned Platinum LEED certification, the highest level possible in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
As befits the Association’s role, the architecture has a unique interaction with storm water, wastewater, wetlands, solar energy, geothermal heating and cooling, among other environmentally sustainable features.
“This building is all about water, water consumption, storm water run-off, wastewater treatment,” said Mr. Waltman as he pointed out the slant of the butterfly roofline. “New construction can have a negative impact on the environment and we have done so much to mitigate that, especially in terms of water which in new construction often has nowhere to go and runs off to impervious surfaces. Here the water runs off into a depression that is forming a rain garden planted with plants that like to get their feet wet. It’s just one example of new environmental strategies that we advocate.
“When we create hard surface on the landscape, like parking lots, roads, and rooftops, we alter the water cycle. Water runs off these hard impervious surfaces faster than it does from natural areas like forest, wetlands, and meadows, which cause flooding. These hard surfaces also prevent water from percolating into the soil, robbing our aquifers of essential replenishment.”
The building boasts a green roof with plants that keep the building cool, thus saving on air conditioning costs while helping reduce storm water runoff. Rain gardens full of water-loving plants reduce and purify storm water runoff and help recharge the aquifer.
Water collected from the roof is used to flush toilets and a wetlands-based sewage system filters the wastewater from its toilets, showers, and sinks and returns it back to the land.
A heat pump system circulates water 400 feet deep underground to wells that help cool it in the summer and warm it in the winter.
Besides solar panels that generate electricity and produce heat for water, the building uses passive solar with windows that capture the natural light on sunny days and interior lights fitted with automatic dimmer switches to reduce energy use on dull days.
Solar panels were donated by Recom Solar (with assistance from NRG energy).
Inside, a topographical map shows visitors the entire Stony Brook Millstone Watershed. Visitors can locate a waterway near their home and discover names that instantly connect to the Princeton area history, such as Harry’s Brook, Great Bear Swamp, Devil’s Brook Swamp, Upper Bear Swamp, Alexander Creek, Palmer Lake, Strawberry Run.
A 500-gallon tank has species of native fish and turtles (musk, mud, painted) and there are activities for children and adults alike.
The new Center was much needed, said Mr. Waltman, who has been in the job for a decade now, after working on the Galapagos Islands. “We needed more space for all of the things we do: environmental policy advocacy, leadership, education and science … we have scientists and teachers here. But all of these elements were not well-integrated because we were divided over two buildings, the old Buttinger Nature Center and the historic 18th-century Drake Farmstead that Muriel Gardiner Buttinger and her husband Joseph lived in from 1940 to 1985.”
“The idea was to build a new center that would demonstrate technologies and systems that protect water, conserve water, and conserve energy,” said Mr. Waltman. “And the building itself will allow us to expand our educational and advocacy work.”
Rather than tear down its existing 4,500 square feet Buttinger Nature Center, the Association renovated it, adding an extra 10,000 square feet with exhibition space, a laboratory, a computer learning center, conference rooms, a gift shop, kitchen, and updated staff offices.
Some $8.5 million was raised by the Association, which has 25 people on its staff, although that number grows with a summer camp program that has served 10,000 kids over the years; 400 are enrolled this summer.
Having grown up in Princeton, Mr. Waltman attended Johnson Park Elementary School and graduated from Princeton High School in 1982. His favorite part of the job, he said, is its diverse demands. “I’m constantly involved in a mix of different things, from lobbying in Trenton, to discussions on the STEM curriculum, removing a dam on the Millstone River, and talking with kids.”
His next goal is to turn from building the center to using it to advance the Watershed’s mission and he’s eager to get the message across to high school students interested in science and engineering. A one-week Watershed Academy is designed just for them during the summer.
The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is located at 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington, N.J. 08534. The Watershed Reserve’s hiking trails between Hopewell and Lawrence. are open each day from dawn to dusk; Watershed Center for Environmental Advocacy, Science and Education’s hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 737-3735, or visit: www.thewatershed.org (where an audio-visual tour of the new Center can be viewed).