State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MPA Students Partner with Raritan Headwaters Association

RHAAs part of the Workshop in applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis, students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program are partnering with the Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA) to help address emerging water quality and watershed resiliency issues related to climate change.

On February 28, 2015, Bill Kibler, RHA’s Director of Policy and Science, led a team of Columbia’s MPA-ESP candidates on a tour of the watershed to help them understand the “lay of the land” and to provide context for the project.

“Today, RHA is a strong advocate and a leading voice for clean water in New Jersey. However, the organization is now at another critical strategic point,” said Melissa Wright, Faculty Advisor for the project. “Especially after Hurricane Sandy, RHA realizes that it needs to play a stronger role in addressing emerging water quality and watershed resiliency issues related to climate change.”

The project team will collect and analyze relevant information, conduct interviews, meet with experts on local water quality issues and disaster resilience, and leverage the experience and connections of RHA. The team will deliver a report that should include:

  1. Research of various organizational, programmatic, and policy-related climate change strategies at similar watershed associations nationally.
  2. Research of risk assessment studies or efforts that cover the watershed.
  3. Assessment of water quality and/or watershed resiliency impacts of relevant strategies.
  4. Determination of the applicability for RHA of relevant climate change strategies. For each, the team will assess what organizational, governance, or political obstacles exist.
  5. After the midterm briefing, RHA will select a subset of strategies based on a) their potential water quality and/or watershed resiliency impacts and b) the applicability for RHA. For the report, the team will further analyze the potential impacts and applicability to RHA

About RHA

RHA is on a mission to protect clean water in the north and south branch region of the Raritan River. The 470-square-mile region provides drinking water to more than 1.5 million residents of 39 municipalities in Hunterdon, Morris, and Somerset Counties and beyond, into the state’s urban areas. They are the largest watershed organization in New Jersey with thousands of members, participants, and volunteers. RHA protects, preserves, and improves water quality and other natural resources through science, education, and advocacy programs.

The drainage basin of the entire Raritan River covers approximately 1,100 square miles, making it the largest river basin located entirely within the State of New Jersey. The South Branch of the Raritan River is 51 miles long from its source in Budd Lake to its confluence with the North Branch in Branchburg. The North Branch of the Raritan River originates as a spring-fed stream in Morris County and flows south for approximately 23 miles to its confluence with the South Branch. The Raritan River empties into Raritan Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.

Raritan Headwaters Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was formed from the 2011 merger of the South Branch (SBWA) and Upper Raritan (URWA) watershed associations.


Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, in partnership with the Earth Institute.

Since it began in 2002, the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program has given students the hands-on experience, and the analytical and decision-making tools to implement effective environmental and sustainable management policies. The program’s 682 graduates have advanced to jobs in domestic and international environmental policy, working in government, private and non-profit sectors. Their work involves issues of sustainability, resource use and global change, in fields focused on air, water, climate, energy efficiency, food, agriculture, transportation and waste management. They work as consultants, advisers, project managers, program directors, policy analysts, teachers, researchers and environmental scientists and engineers.

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