CREDIT: Ari Kaufman
Dec 04

Inching Closer to Improving Loantaka Brook

Since my last blog post about our investigations into high bacteria in Loantaka Brook, we have made some progress in finding the source.

Remember that 4’ diameter pipe that I had mentioned? Well, since it had a flow during a dry weather period in August, I needed to wait for more dry weather for follow-up sampling (no stormwater pipe should have a flow during dry weather). Schedules and the weather finally aligned in early November, and I headed upstream with my colleague Kelly Martin to collect water samples from the large pipe and nearby locations.

When collecting the sample from the 4’ pipe, there was a distinct odor of sewage. The results confirmed it – E. coli was 25 times higher than the state standard, and 21 times higher than Loantaka Brook only 40’ upstream. So now we have our source of E. coli!

See the results from all of our follow-up sampling by clicking here and a map of the sampling locations by clicking here.


Biodegradable dye was used to trace the pipe to a storm drain in a nearby development. Credit: A. Follett

But it’s not quite that easy – where does the pipe come from? I headed into the field with Mark Gandy from Morristown’s Engineering Division, and GSWA intern Amye Follett. We were able to trace the pipe back to a nearby housing development. Since it was raining when we met, Mark put biodegradable green dye into the storm drain in question, and after several minutes it came out of the pipe in Loantaka Brook. Additional investigations show that the 4’ pipe drains stormwater from several storm drains, and potentially another development across the street.

These storm pipes also cross over sanitary (wastewater) pipes in several locations, so a broken sanitary pipe might be the cause of high E. coli in Loantaka Brook. We need to conduct additional dry weather sampling in storm sewers in the development to better pinpoint the location where the E. coli is coming from. Once we figure out the location, we will pass the information along to Morristown’s Engineering Division, which can work to fix the source of E. coli. We are certainly making progress!

  • Richard

    Good job inspector Clueso.

  • Lee Pollock

    Hi Laura – Good investigative work! Just FYI, when we first moved to the area in 1972, we owned the nearest Fanok Road house to the Township’s community pool. One fall (?) day, Loantaka Brook, running along our back property line, was milky white. I traced the discoloration upstream about to your uppermost sampling spot in this study. It was clearly coming from the nearby housing development (can’t recall for sure if it was Parson’s Village). We ultimately decided it was the result of their draining their swimming pool at the end of the season into the brook – the white perhaps from its filtering system. I recollect being told (at the Town Hall?) when we asked about it, that such dumping was perfectly legal back then. Poor old Loantaka has been receiving such insults – pool dumping, legacy road salt accumulation, excessive siltation from runoff, and now this – for a long, long time. My hat’s off to you folks for trying to help!

    • Laura Kelm

      Hi Lee – Thanks for the info! Loantaka Brook’s upstream water quality is a reflection of the development in the headwaters region. Hopefully when this E. coli work is completed, the stream will be in slightly better shape, and we will be able to work to improve some of the other impairments you mentioned.

  • Jim Slate

    Just read the blog posted above in reference to high bacteria in the Loantaka Brook and I noted an inaccurate statement. I have been involved in that investigation through the Morris Township Engineering Department. The second paragraph states that “no storm water pipe should have flow during dry weather”. I wanted to point out that is not an accurate statement. I have seen many storm sewer systems discharge flow during dry weather and the reason is that the storm sewer systems typically collect high ground water and that water is carried through the system. I wanted to ensure that your readers are aware that if you see dry weather discharge from a storm sewer it is not an automatic indication that it contains sewerage, most likely it is clean ground water.

    • Laura Kelm

      Hi Jim – Thanks for the information, and for your help as we investigate this further. In this instance, the water from the pipe looked clear, but smelled of sewage. It’s good to point out that assumptions can be easy to make, but may not point you in the right direction.

  • Joe Basralian

    Thank you! We need you! How can we best support this work and expedient response in Morristown?

    • Laura Kelm

      Hi Joe – At this point we’re waiting for a few days of dry weather to continue investigating the source of sewage. If you have any sway over the weather, assistance would be appreciated! Otherwise it’s just a waiting game. But I’m sure you’re aware that being a member of GSWA is always a great way to support all of the work that we do – funds raised through membership and donations help to fund staff time and materials needed to investigate issues like this – thanks for being a member!