Sierra Club: Lake Hopatcong's closed for a month, no end in sight

18 Jul 2019 | 11:08

    Lake Hopatcong remains closed to swimming and water sports because of a toxic algae bloom that had shut down the lake for a month. Recent tests show modest improvement in the bloom, but the algae is likely to increase again after recent heavy rains and expected 100-degree temperatures. Lake Hopatcong is just one of a growing list of NJ lakes that have been closed because of toxic algae. Greenwood Lake was recently shut down because of algae blooms on the New Jersey side of the lake. Greenwood Lake tests have shown bacteria from the algae nearly 10 times the state health standard.
    “We are approaching the hottest weekend of the year and our lakes are being closed down. Lake Hopatcong has been closed for a month because of massive algae blooms that at one point covered most of the lake. Overdevelopment and increased stormwater runoff are pouring nutrients into the lakes, allowing algae to thrive. Nearly 90% of the area around Lake Hopatcong is developed. Recent tests show the Lake Hopatcong bloom has gotten smaller, but that won’t last after this week’s heavy rains and with 100-degree temperatures coming,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “What is happening in our lakes is the direct result of state’s failure to properly protect our waterways. They have no watershed management programs. They have not addressed stormwater management and failed septics. They’ve done nothing with nutrient loads and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to limit pollutants. They have not controlled overdevelopment. That’s why our lakes are closing and could die.”
    Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are formed from bacteria carried in by nutrients primarily from septics and lawn and garden fertilizer. The algae can cause severe skin rashes. If swallowed the polluted water can cause abdominal pain, headaches and vomiting. Pets should also be kept away from water where the algae blooms are present.
    “Lake Hopatcong is one of a long and growing list of lakes that have either been shut down or placed under advisory because of algae blooms. This is a result of the failure to properly manage stormwater runoff and overdevelopment pouring nutrients into the lake. DEP is using buoys to monitor the Lake Hopatcong algae but nothing to treat and reduce the pollutants. The lake could be headed for an environmental catastrophe. Greenwood Lake has been closed with bacteria levels nearly 10 times higher than the state health standard. Greenwood Lake is not only important for recreation but for drinking water. It is a backup reservoir feeding into the Monksville and Wanaque reservoirs,” said Tittel. “There’s been no swimming in the Spruce Run reservoir nearly all season. Swartswood Lake and Rosedale Lake in Mercer County have also been closed. Lake Mohawk in Sparta until recently had been under an advisory since May. Deal and Sunset lakes in Monmouth County have also been under advisory.”
    Water samples were taken from four sites on the New Jersey side of Greenwood Lake, with all of them showing cyanobacteria levels significantly higher than the safe threshold of 20,000 cells per milliliter. The highest level was 212,000 cells per milliliter, nearly 10 times the state health standard.”
    “DEP is monitoring the water instead of coming up with a plan of action. They’re using buoys for testing when they should be treating the water to reduce algae blooms. There are ways to treat the water and that are environmentally sound and that need to be done, especially with such hot weather approaching. The algae is only going to get worse. If we don’t do something to stop it, our lakes will become nutrified and filled with rotting, dead fish,” said Tittel.
    Greenwood Lake is a 7-mile long lake that extends into Orange County, N.Y. It is managed by the bi-state Greenwood Lake Commission. New York officials are conducting tests in their part of the lake to see if the algae bloom has extended that far. Three West Milford beaches on the lake have been closed because of the algae.
    “New Jersey’s two lake commissions for Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong are completely ineffective, while New York has a strong commission to manage Lake George. California also has a strong commission for Lake Tahoe. These commissions have regulatory authority to control overdevelopment and stormwater. The only thing New Jersey’s commissions do is harvest weeds. New York also a a strong program for HABs and lake management rules for all of its lakes, while New Jersey doesn’t have a lake management program at all. Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong have become giant stormwater detention basins. They need the same kind of protection as Lake George and Lake Tahoe receive,” said Tittel.
    The Murphy Administration has failed to reverse 8 years of Gov. Christie’s rollbacks 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.
    “We have failed to protect our lakes, and the Murphy administration has made it worse by not moving forward with watershed protections and reversing Christie-era rollbacks. DEP made the nutrification of our lakes a ‘low priority because it does not directly relate to human health issues.’ That’s false. The state does not use nutrients as a factor in their cleanup plans for the lakes. We can’t just reverse the rollbacks but strengthen rules on Stormwater Management, Flood Hazard and Water Quality Planning. We need to bring back Septic Management Districts and expand stream buffers. The state has no watershed planning and lake management programs to clean our water. CAFRA rules continue to allow overdevelopment in environmentally sensitive areas. There has been no movement on TMDL standards to reduce pollutants,” said Tittel.
    The highest cyanobacteria reading from the algae blooms at Lake Hopatcong – the largest recreational lake in the state -- was 179,000 cells per milliliter taken on June 27, less than the highest reading at Greenwood Lake. Must of the current bloom in Lake Hopatcong is concentrated on the Hopatcong area.
    “The state must act quickly to prevent an ecological disaster. We need to establish aggressive timetables for cleanup and treatment plans for our lakes. We need more funding for restoration projects for wetlands and natural systems, and to retrofit stormwater systems in existing developments. We must fix our aging infrastructure and reduce nutrients from failed septics, leaky sewers and combined sewer overflows. We must reform agricultural uses to reduce pollution. We also need to limit impervious cover and curb overdevelopment,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We must act now to protect our waterways, drinking water, recreational lakes and reservoirs. If we don’t, it will only get worse because of climate change.”