How to Clean a Dirty River, Jersey Style

There's still room for old fashioned back-breaking work and elbow grease in this high-tech world.

And to find it, you don't have to go any farther than the second highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.

That would be the Great Falls in Paterson, N.J., which was once a power source for the nation's first industrial city, as planned by none other than Alexander Hamilton (yup, the guy on the $10 bill).

And with more than a million people living in the watershed of the Passaic River -- which feeds Great Falls -- the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners have their hands full trying to keep this tributary of New York Harbor clean.

"Part of our mission is to provide for cleanup of the Passaic River and all of its tributaries," said Executive Director Wayne Forrest as the effort got underway.

For the second time this year, the PVSC essentially turned off the waterfall by diverting its flow to another channel. And then its employees and some 40 student volunteers got to work.

There were huge logs that had to be cut, plastic chairs and plastic bottles that had to be picked up, and more.

Last Spring, a similar effort resulted in some 15 tons -- that's a whopping 30,000 pounds --- of debris being removed from the rocks at the top of the Falls.

The effort has the volunteer help of the Great Falls Youth Corps and the NJ Community Development Corporation.

"It makes me feel good to see kids doing things productive like this," said Forrest, who most recently was the Somerset County Prosecutor.

All of the efforts, along with two skimmer vessels operated by the PVSC on the lower Passaic River, are aimed at keeping debris out of the Harbor and out of the ocean -- debris that can harm marine life and damage boats.

The Great Falls is now part of the National Park System, and this latest cleanup is meant to coincide with the Great Falls Festival set for Labor Day Weekend.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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