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Northern New Jersey Drainage Basins

20160118 NJ RiversMany New Jersey residents know towns, highways, and diners like the back of their hand. However, how many Jersayans can name the rivers or creeks of their local drainage basin (also known as a water shed). With so many rivers and streams heading to the Atlantic Ocean, I find it hard to believe that most Jersayans know their local river, and then do not know the next one over. This article is to help you understand the drainage basins in northern New Jersey.

1. First let’s look at the big granddaddy, the Hudson River. This is the massive 315 mile (507 km), 22000 cu ft/s (620 m3/s) highway that drains most of east New York. It separates New York from new Jersey in the north and is the reason we have the Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, and George Washington Bridge, not to mention numerous ferries and bridges north. Jersey City, Fort Lee, the Palisades, and beyond. Big enough for Captain Sulley to land a plane safely. Resplendent with boats, cruises, and many events, this is a crown jewel in our country’s rivers.

2. Not so well known is the Hackensack River. About 54 miles (87 km) long, 173 cu ft/s (5 m3/s). This river borders many of the Meadowlands swamps and heads up to Jersey City, Secaucus, and up to the northern border.

3. Next up is the Passaic River. About 80 miles (129 km), 2,100 cu ft/s (59 m3/s). This river is the terminus for many northern New Jersey rivers, the Whippany, the Rockaway, The Pequannock, the Wanaque, the Rampano, and the Saddle rivers. Look at the beauty of all those local names! Many rivers near the Great Swamp, Short Hills Mall, the west side of the Watchungs, and Great Piece Meadows drain here.

4. The Morris Canal is not a drainage basin, but it is an important waterway in North Jersey. From the middle 19th century until the early 20th century, it formed an important highway between Pennsylvania and New York. Coal, iron, and passengers were transported in canal boats from Easton/Phillipsburg in west New Jersey, along multiple locks and ramps, and into a basin close to lower Manhattan. Today, these pathways and canals form an important greenbelt across northern New Jersey.

5. The Elizabeth River is a rather small river in northern New Jersey. However, it is near and dear to our hearts because it starts in the Kahwamee swamps in Union near the World’s Tallest Water Sphere. It heads through east Union, into Elizabeth, under Route 9 and I-95, the Jersey Turnpike, and dumps into Arthur Kill. From there it is a short paddle to the Goethals Bridge, Staten Island, the Bayonne Bridge, and beyond. How did Staten Island ever become part of New York state? From a geography perspective, it is closer, and looks more similar to Elizabeth, Linden, Carteret, and Perth Amboy.

6. The Rahway River is next and drains a major portion of northern New Jersey. Traveling upstream from the Arthur Kill, past I-95/Turnpike, Route 9, Route 27, and the Garden State Parkway, it branches into two sides. The east side goes up through Rahway, Cranford, Kenilworth, and Union. The west side goes through Middlesex and Shackamaxon.

7. The Woodbridge Creek is rather small, but it drains Woodbridge River Park to the east and Heards Brook to the west. Both of these small rivers pass under many New Jersey highways: I-95/NJ Turnpike, US 35 to the shore, and US9.

8. Next we have the Raritan River. This 30m (48 km) river with 1,070 cu ft/s (30 m3/s) is crossed by nearly all Jerseyans on their way to and from the Shore. From Perth Amboy, to Edison, and west to Somerville and the Round Valley Recreation area, this river drains most of central New Jersey. Many huge bridges take cars back and forth from north to south Jersey over this river.

9. Finally, in west northern New Jersey, we have the Delaware River. This mighty 301 m (484 km) basin with 14,119 sq mi (36,568 km2) of drainage, originates in New York, and drains both eastern Pennsylvania (including the Lehigh and the Schuykill), western New Jersey, and Delaware. Passing Easton, Trenton, Philadelpia, Wilmington, and Cape May to the sea, this is the border between New Jersey and states west. The next major basin nearby is the Chesapeake Bay.

We hope you enjoy this overview of the drainage basins of northern New Jersey. These rivers are the life blood of the people in the area for many ages. The names, the routes, and the history strike a resonant chord for all northern New Jerseyans.

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