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High Water

Last year’s record rainfall in New Jersey approached biblical proportions locally, in the sense that for 40 days and 40 nights, the Millstone River at the Griggstown Causeway reached the flood action level — meaning the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic.

Photo caption: Griggstown Causeway Bridge is closed because of high water. Photo by Barbara A. Preston


Fortunately, those were not the result of 40 consecutive days and nights of rain, as in the story of Noah’s Ark.

The impact of frequent, heavy rain was quite severe in Montgomery, where commuting, youth sports, and farming were all significantly affected in 2018.

With the wet pattern continuing into 2019, local officials worry youth sports leagues may be delayed this spring, including the traditional April 1 Opening Day for baseball and softball.

Rutgers University Climate Institute recorded more rainfall in 2018 than previously measured in over a century. The statewide average was 64.79 inches, more than 18 inches above the 30-year “norm.” Climate scientists like Anthony Broccoli of Rutgers say global climate change will make NJ hotter, and Heavy Rains Will Become Heavier & More Frequent.

Impact on Local Farms

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, but Montgomery farmers — this year, and last year — have had too much of a good thing.

Farmer Dale Johnson of Montgomery’s Bridgepoint Run Farm said heavy rains in 2018 reduced his vegetable production by 50 percent. Rain also made it difficult to harvest the hay he grows for his livestock.

“We were able to plant about 85 acres of wheat and rye in a three-day window in late October when dad and I took turns running the tractor day and night to get the seed in the ground before the next batch of rain moved in,” Johnson said.

Photo caption. Dale Johnson under a cloudy sky at Bridgepoint Run Farm in March.

Alec Gioseffi of Cherry Valley Cooperative Farm in Montgomery said too much rain harmed the soil and made preparation for planting difficult. Heirloom tomatoes suffered the greatest harm on his farm, located on Cherry Valley Road.

“In the seven years I have been farming in New Jersey, 2018 was the most difficult. We received almost an inch of rain every single week. Our silt loam soil was essentially waterlogged the whole season. Planting or working on wet soil destroys the structure and aggregation, which means low yields, less healthy plants, more disease, and more pests,” Gioseffi said.

At the Unionville Vineyards in nearby Ringoes, general manager John Cifelli says yields were down 40 percent last year and the problems are continuing into 2019. “We kept looking for a reprieve from copious rain and humidity. It never came. It rained during the critical late ripening period for wine grapes, and then it rained through harvest. It’s been raining or snowing ever since,” he complained.

Photo below: Farmer Anna Reinalda of Rocky Hill at Cherry Grover Farm in Lawrenceville.

Photo by Robert Meola.

Dairy Manager Anna Reinalda of Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville said that in addition to the challenges of farmers working in the mud all day, pasture-raised cows are at greater risk of hoof rot when it rains so frequently.

“After cows graze a field, the grass requires a minimum of two weeks to grow back before it can be grazed again — anything sooner than that will damage the grass and inhibit its healthy regrowth. But with 60 percent of our grazing space under water and unusable, we had no choice but to overgraze our few dry fields,” Reinalda said. She worries about the quality of those over-grazed fields in 2019.

Play Ball?

Dry fields matter to athletes too. Montgomery’s youth baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse clubs all depend on playing fields in good condition since the only artificial turf in town is the high school football field.

According to Township Recreation Director Karen Zimmerman, the start of spring sports will be delayed. “All the leagues have been chomping at the bit to use the fields, and April 1 is typically the day when we shoot to open. There is absolutely no way I can see that happening because we need to be able to get our equipment out there. But we don’t think we can do that until maybe the first or second week of April. Maybe the 15th,” Zimmerman said.

She continued, “when the fields are too wet, then the cleats turn the fields into a mudhole. I rely on the parks and public works to decide whether the teams can play. If it is wet, and the grass is still dormant, players can do a lot of damage.”

Gautam Kobla, the president of Montgomery Baseball and Softball, added: “We need some dry weather. Right now we can’t even do a water test. When you step on the field water just oozes out.”

If the fields aren’t ready until mid-April, as Zimmerman fears, then baseball and softball will be up against spring break, which starts April 18.

Looking back at last year, Baseball coach Ryan Quillen said he estimates that rain forced the cancellation of about 60 games, and 45 of those were never made up.

Photo caption: Rain Delay. Disappointed Montgomery Baseball players stuck in the dugout at the McKnight Baseball Complex. From left: Parker Quillen, Max Mahoney, Justin Swerdlow, Lucas Clark, and Declan Kyler.

“It could have been 50 percent worse if we didn’t have the three-wheeler we purchased from the New York Mets,” Quillen said. “The new maintenance vehicle allows us to prepare fields very fast.”

Ralph Spicer, who oversees travel soccer teams in Montgomery, said the “rain was tough on us last year. We had a lot of cancellations of practices and postponement of matches. We extended last fall’s season by one week to partially make up for the rainouts. That meant we were still playing soccer right up until Thanksgiving, which was quite cold for the players and parents!”

Spicer continued, “Generally, our fields were in better shape than other towns. The reason, I think, is we at the club share a common philosophy with the township. We’d rather cancel/postpone a practice or match than risk damaging the fields because they are muddy. So we had a number of days where it was bright and sunny, but because it had rained heavily in the days prior, we cancelled. We are also fortunate that our township has plenty of fields, so we can rotate use of them to avoid over-using any one of them.”

With athletes as with dairy cows, field rotation is important. ■

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