PATERSON, NJ - It was a strange week for the Passaic River. On one day, June 8, the river's waters ran red, a result of engineering students' studies of the Passaic's pollution. On the next day, the Great Falls ran dry, a result of utilities officials' effort to clear debris from the riverbed.
Students and faculty of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken dropped 14 pounds of nonreactive Rhodamine dye in the river on Wednesday and then took samples downstream to analyze the Passaic's flow and to determine the total maximum daily load of pollution entering the river. The research was commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Stevens Tech officials said in a press release that the results of the study will help the DEP clean up pollution along stretches of the Passaic River.

The river's pollution problems take a variety of forms, but the team is focused on one in particular: fecal coliform bacteria, according to the press release.

In Paterson and other cities with old sewer systems, this type of pollution enters the river when heavy rains overwhelm the capacity of the sewage treatment plant  and waste end sup being discharged into the river. That's a problem in cities like Paterson with antiquated sewer systems that combine both waste  water and storm water. Modern sewer systems have two separate sets of pipes - one for the sanitary sewers that empty in a sewage treatment plant and one for storm water that collects water from street drains.

The Stevens team is studying 14 different locations along the Passaic River in order to determine the effect of sewer discharges on water quality. In addition to dye studies, sampling for bacteria is conducted both in dry weather and wet weather events, when the river is most polluted and storm clouds loom.

It's a dirty job, but Stevens student Tina Singh is glad to do it.  Her desire to help others led her to environmental engineering, and she hopes to apply what she has learned to help those less fortunate.

"If the Passaic River has such a high level of pollution, we can only imagine how bad it is in developing nations," she said. "I would really like to help them with the environmental studies I learned at Stevens."
After the dye testing on Wednesday, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission diverted water from the 77-foot Great Falls on Thursday to allow volunteers to clean out the riverbed just below the falls. The work was done by about 20 New Jersey Youth Corps student volunteers who performed the cleanup in Thursday's scorching heat. They hauled away metal, wood, bottles, cans, and other debris.
Last year, two similar cleanups removed more than 30 tons of debris from the riverbed, officials said.