The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is embarking on a bold plan to transform the heart of its 930-acre Watershed Reserve in Hopewell into a teaching model for responsible stewardship of water and other natural resources.

"Water is a basic necessity of life," said Jim Waltman, Watershed Association Executive Director. "Unfortunately, our society has not always treated water as the critical resource we know it to be," he said.

Americans consume an extraordinary amount of water: 179 gallons per day per capita, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In large areas of the country, and New Jersey, we are consuming water faster than our aquifers are replenished by precipitation.

Americans also consume a tremendous amount of energy to pump, heat and treat water-13 percent of all of the nation’s electricity use, according to River Network, a Portland-based conservation group. Wasting water, therefore, not only harms streams, lakes, and aquifers, it also wastes energy.

Over-consumption is not the only threat facing our water supplies. Polluted run-off from buildings, roadways, parking lots, and lawns flows to storm drains and eventually to streams-usually without any treatment. Motor oil, antifreeze, pesticides, fertilizers, pet wastes and other pollutants discharged in this manner can kill fish and other wildlife, contaminate drinking water sources and cause illness to swimmers, boaters and their pets. Inadequately treated human wastewater resulting from failing septic systems and aging sewer infrastructure can also pollute our fragile water supplies.

The Watershed Association plans to create a new environmental center that will demonstrate a variety of strategies to conserve and protect water. The planned center has been designed by Farewell Architects, LLC to achieve a LEED-Platinum rating through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The center will feature a complex of "raingardens" and "bio-swales" to manage stormwater, while an innovative system of constructed wetlands will treat the human wastewater produced at the center.

The Watershed Association has raised nearly $5.5 million as part of its "Pass it on" campaign to create the new center and bolster the organization’s endowment. "We need to raise an additional $550,000 in gifts and commitments to break ground in 2012 and are reaching out to local business leaders, individuals and foundations to join us in this effort that we know will benefit the entire state," Waltman said.

For more information about the project and how you can help, call the Watershed Development Office at 609-737-3735 or visit www.thewatershed.org to view a feature video.

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