Algae raises Sierra Club concern about protecting area watersheds

Jul 05 2019 | 05:00 AM

    Hopatcong State Park has been closed to swimming due to a Harmful Algal Bloom in Lake Hopatcong. Freshwater HABs are caused by bacteria, and thrive with high temperatures and nutrient levels. Warning signs say there should be no contact with the water for humans, pets or livestock. Any fish caught In the lake should not be eaten. The Swartswood Lake State Park swimming area has reopened after closing because of a HAB earlier this month.
    “A summer heat wave has arrived, July 4 is nearly here, and more of our public swimming areas are closing because of Harmful Algal Blooms. The Hopatcong State Park closure is the second this month in North Jersey after Swartswood Lake State Park was also shut down temporarily. These are among just 8 public swimming areas across North and Central New Jersey. The closures are a direct result of our failure to adequately protect our watersheds. No one should have any contact with the water, including pets and livestock. Any fish caught in the lake should not be eaten. These are the consequences of failed policies to adequately protect our streams and waterways,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
    Harmful Algal Blooms produce toxins that endanger human, pets, livestock and wildlife and can cause allergic skin reactions. They occur when simple plants that live in the water grow out of control and produce toxic or harmful effects on people. In rare cases human illnesses caused by HABs can cause debilitation and even be fatal.
    “This is what happens when we eliminate environmental protections and don’t protect our waterways. We fail to control overdevelopment, failing septics and stormwater. Warmer temperatures and more rain means more runoff from overdevelopment and farms. That brings more nutrients and silts creating a witches’ brew in our lakes. Climate change will worsen those impacts. We’re creating a vicious cycle that will only bring higher temperatures, more rain and more pollution. More beaches and swimming areas will close. We usually don’t see HABs like this until August. Now we’ve got two lakes already closing in June,” said Tittel.
    The Murphy Administration has failed to reverse eight years of Christie Administration rollbacks on waterways that have led to increased pollution and overdevelopment. Those rollbacks weakened protections for stormwater, allowed development in environmentally sensitive areas that impacts water quality, and reduced protections for streams and stream buffers
    “The people who enjoy Lake Hopatcong and our other lakes and state parks are now paying the price for our failure to take better care of our natural resources. The Murphy administration has not moved forward with watershed protections and reversing rollbacks. Gov. Christie-era rollbacks still in place eliminated stream buffers and filled in wetlands while getting rid of Septic Management Districts that would protect our waters. Stormwater pollution and runoff from septics and agricultural uses are bringing in nutrients and turning the lake into a polluted soup. The failure to invest more in our parks is worsening the problems. Rules continue to encourage overdevelopment and sprawl. As the summer heats up, we will only see more beaches and swimming areas closing,” said Jeff TIttel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.