Duke Farms is a leader in environmental stewardship and inspires visitors to become informed stewards of the land. It is a place of education, enjoyment and research that enhances the environmental health of the region. Through the beauty of its natural setting, the diversity of its wildlife, and the scope and quality of its educational programs, demonstrations, and research, Duke Farms inspires people to adopt the attitude of stewardship, protect the earth, and start building a more sustainable future. The following is a detailed profile on how Duke Farms is striving to be a leader by achieving excellence in Water Quality and Consumption best practices.  

Goal 1: Develop transparent standards for the governance and management of water and ensure this is apparent in garden's plans, policies, and operational norms. 

1a: Garden creates a plan, policy, or protocol that guides water conservation and quality decisions and actions on site.  
Before Duke Farms was renovated from an estate to a place of public visitation, education, and conservation, a Master Plan was developed.  This plan specified water conservation through use of water efficient bathroom fixtures, a constructed wetlands wastewater treatment facility, installation of two large cisterns for rainwater collection to be used in toilets, installation of composting toilets, porous pavements, Bioswales, and restoration of lake shores, wetlands and natural streams.      
Duke Farms is in the process of developing an additional water conservation plan after additional smart sub-meters are installed.  

Photo: A composting toilet at Duke Farms. 

1b: Garden water management practices include reducing municipally supplied water. & 1c: Garden’s water management practices include measuring, improving, and reducing annual water discharged. 
The Orientation Center complex of 6 buildings is not connected to city sewage. The onsite constructed wetlands wastewater treatment facility treats all the wastewater produced by the staff and visiting public.  The quality of discharged water is tested monthly for Nitrogen, Fecal, VOCs, and pH.  All test results are reported to the NJ‐DEP.  According to the DEP, the constructed wetlands wastewater treatment facility cleans water to a higher standard than typical municipal drinking water. 

Photo: Constructed wetlands that treat wastewater at Duke Farms. 

Local groundwater is recharged by the constructed wetland (1.3 million gallons annually) and the bioswales in the parking lot (5 million gallons annually).  Duke Farms uses wells for irrigation for the community garden and agricultural operations. These wells are tested and results are reported to the NJ‐DEP. 

Garden implements green infrastructure/features to improve water flow, quality, storage, and capture on site in the following ways:  

Rainwater Collection: A 5,000‐gallon rainwater collection cistern collects rainwater from the Farm Barn roof to operate the constructed wetlands and for use as gray water in Orientation Center bathrooms. A second 5,000‐gallon cistern collects rainwater at the Orchid Range to use as gray water in the Orchid Range.

Photo: Porous paving at Duke Farms helps to reduce storm water runoff. 

Management of Artificial Lakes: Duke Farms has an artificial lake system that was built in the early 1900’s and consists of 7 lakes that cover over 27 acres. The system utilizes gravity to create water flow. Water was pumped from the Raritan River to the highest lake and then flowed through each lake over waterfalls until it eventually reached the lowest lake and back to the Raritan River. For over 100 years this complex system pumped up to one million gallons of water a day from the Raritan River.  

Pollution in the Raritan River from industry and agricultural runoff would end up in the lake system and affect water quality. Another challenge to water quality in the artificial lakes is that they were designed as shallow lagoons, creating extremely warm water conditions during certain times of the year. Shallow warm water releases nutrients in the sediment and deprives the water of oxygen. Historically, turf was maintained right up to the lake edge. This allowed stormwater runoff to easily enter the lakes, negatively affecting water quality. 

The first step to increasing water and habitat quality was conducting a restoration project where thousands of linear feet of lakeshore were planted with native wetlands plants. Then in 2013, in concert with removal of the Nevius Street Dam on the Raritan River, Duke Farms re‐engineered the lake system to continue to address water quality and aesthetic issues. The result is an efficient system that no longer withdraws water from the river and now uses water from two new groundwater wells. The system uses approximately 250,000 gallons a day, a 750,000 gallon a day reduction.  

Water supply for irrigation at the Farm Barn campus is from ground wells that are recharged by the Constructed Wetlands (1.3M gallons annually) and the bioswales in the Orientation Center parking lot (5M gallons annually). 
On an ongoing basis, Duke Farms develops and implements detailed annual plans for treatment of aquatic weeds in the artificial lakes. Duke Farms has also installed and maintains several solar‐powered aerators to reduce the release of nutrients in the sediment and add additional oxygen which encourages healthier habitat for aquatic life.  

Photo: Constructed pond with solar-powered aerator. 

Dam Removal Project: In 2013, Duke Farms worked with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to remove the Nevius Street Dam on the Raritan River, a dam owned by Duke Farms. This dam was one of the last impediments to migratory fish passage on the Raritan River. Since removal, the river has re‐established a natural bank and migratory fish such as herring and shad have been observed upstream.  

Photo: Dam removal project underway. 

Porous walking surfaces: Porous pavements and grass walking trails are used extensively to greatly reduce storm water runoff. 

Stormwater management/Bioswales: Bioswales in the visitor/staff parking lot collect and then slowly infiltrate stormwater. They are planted with native plant species that help to cleanse the stormwater before it percolates into the groundwater.  

Green roofs are used where possible to reduce water runoff and soil erosion. 

Wells for buildings and residences that are not on the municipal water system are tested semi‐annually utilizing the NJDEP Private Water Testing Act criteria.

Mown grass has largely been replaced with native pollinator meadows and “freedom lawns” to reduce the need for watering and reduce runoff. 

Photo: A green roof at Duke Farms. 

1d: Garden adopts/aligns water conservation and quality strategies with broader local/regional efforts. 1e: Garden makes informed decisions about water resource management involving or hiring experts for project and programs.

Duke Farms collaborates with external organizations to address local/regional water conservation and quality issues.   

  • Duke Farms hosts AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors, a partnership with the New Jersey Water Supply Authority. Watershed Ambassadors work to address water problems throughout the Raritan River Watershed.
  • Duke Farms consults with Princeton Hydro on monitoring and testing the water quality in the lake system and addressing problems related to non-native aquatic plants.
  • Duke Farms participates in the EPA water sense program.

Duke Farms is in compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations.  These include:  

  • NJPDES – permit from the NJ‐DEP for operation of constructed wetlands
  • NJ‐DEP permits for all new wells
  • NJDEP community public water testing program for drinking water wells utilized by staff and visitors.

Duke Farms has earned special accreditation for water use and quality standards including:

  • NJ Governor’s Environmental Excellence award, Water Resource category, 2010
  • The NJ‐DEP Environmental Stewardship Award. Duke Farms is the only organization to record a perfect score (qualify for all 21 categories).
  • Rutgers University Sustainable Raritan Award, 2011 (Stewardship)
  • Rutgers University Sustainable Raritan Award, 2015 (Remediation and Redevelopment)
  • River Friendly Business and River Friendly Farm awards from The Watershed Institute, New Jersey Water Supply Authority and Raritan Headwaters Association

Photo: Duke Farms was awarded the Environmental Stewardship award by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. 

GOAL 2: Implement strategies that increase water resources education, reduce water consumption, and improve water quality on and off site. 

2a: Garden supports professional development opportunities for staff in charge of managing water on site such as gardeners, horticulturalists, groundskeepers (training ops include formal/informal instruction and distance learning on water resource management). 
Duke Farms promotes continuing Education and professional development for all of its staff. Designed Landscape, Facilities and Natural Resource staff are encouraged to take classes through Rutgers Continuing Education on any subject that is pertinent to their jobs. The cost of these courses is paid by Duke Farms. Many of these courses have water management aspects such as pesticide and herbicide application and turf management.  

2b: Garden educational/interpretative components include water conservation and quality as a theme. 
Educational signage is used extensively indoors and outdoors at Duke Farms including in bathrooms.  Some of the signs explain about waterless urinals and others inform about constructed wetlands (‘where does the water go?’), as well as education graphics at the constructed wetlands that explain how the system works.  

Photo: Educational sign explaining water use at Duke Farms.

2c: Garden allocates funds that demonstrate long‐term commitment to projects/green design features for the purposes of water retention, flow, capture, and storage. 
Duke Farm's annual operating budget includes funding for lake system improvements and lake maintenance and water quality testing utilizing the contractor Princeton Hydro; monthly and quarterly maintenance of the constructed wetlands wastewater treatment facility with  Biohabitats; composting toilet maintenance with the contractor Clivus Multrum; and maintenance of irrigation systems through a contract with a local turf irrigation company. 

Duke Farms partners with the USDA NRCS on three programs, the Emergency Wetlands Protection Program (EWPP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grassland Reserve program. Under these programs Duke Farms has placed one quarter of the property, 700 acres, under easement. The primary goal of these programs is to protect and ecologically restore land and maintain agricultural grasslands. However, these programs create water quality by permanently protecting land from development, reducing soil erosion and sedimentation, and ensuring agricultural and stewardship activities adhere to best management practices.  

2d: Garden regularly monitors and tests the quality of natural water resources on site and takes action to ensure those resources are not polluted from garden activities. 

In addition to internal testing, Duke Farms partners with outside organizations like Princeton Hydro to monitor water quality.  Duke Farms has worked with Raritan Valley Community College to monitor water quality in the artificial lakes and natural streams on the property to create a long‐term data set. Duke Farms has also partnered with Natural Systems Utilities to test water quality in our constructed wetlands. 

When water quality issues are discovered, Duke Farms employs proactive measures like deploying Lake bubblers (solar powered) to add oxygen to lake water for wildlife and adding water filtration systems to address naturally occurring contaminants in well water such as arsenic.  

Photo: Retention basins at Duke Farms store water during extreme weather events and reduce runoff. 

GOAL 3: Establish a set of best practices for collecting, monitoring, and measuring water usage and quality, and use the data to adjust future water management best practices. 

3a: Garden develops best practices for water used outdoors for landscape maintenance and plant health. 
All water infrastructure is mapped in Duke Farm's GIS system. Preventive and planned maintenance on the water system is managed in a cloud‐based computerized maintenance management system called GoFMX. 

Currently Duke Farms has one water meter for municipal water that records all the municipal water that is used onsite.  Duke Farms has a plan to add 5 sub‐meters on the most used buildings.  In addition to controlling water use, the meters will be connected to a dashboard that already displays energy use in the Orientation Center to educate the public about consumption onsite. All residential and irrigation wells are metered individually, and records are kept of use. Water consumption is tracked and tested in the Community Garden well, which is recharged by  the constructed wetlands and bioswales. This well provides water for 460 gardeners and the  Duke Farms Giving Garden program which has donated over 24,000 pounds of produce to local food banks in the last 5 years. 

Duke Farms partnered with Rutgers University to install a scientific Mesonet weather station. This weather station measures soil moisture and has been helpful for community gardeners and our sustainable agricultural operations. 

There is one large area of maintained turf grass at Duke Farms in the Arboretum that requires irrigation. The automatic sprinklers are controlled with a system that reacts to soil moisture and weather conditions.  

Although most outdoor plantings at Duke Farms do not require manual watering, for those that do (including the tropical orchid collection), a strict schedule for manual watering is adhered to by both staff and volunteers. Duke Farms uses water conservation devices such as tree watering bags when planting large trees and plants.  

Photo: Tree watering bags conserve water for newly planted trees. 

3b: Garden follows best practices for indoor facilities to reduce water consumption. 
Duke Farms uses water efficient motion switches in bathrooms to activate sink faucets and to flush toilets. Bathrooms are also equipped with waterless urinals, and low flush toilets.  
There are 7 compostable toilets spread over 900 acres where visitor use is highest.   

3c: Garden sets a percentage goal to reduce overall water consumption annually. 
A water consumption reduction plan is in development at Duke Farms. In addition to the master meter that meters all buildings on the old estate portion of the property (The Core), each irrigation well and residential well has a meter that is recorded, and data is sent to DEP. Duke Farms is developing a plan to use this data to reduce overall water consumption.