From the New Jersey Sierra Club:
Lake Hopatcong Closure Result of Failed Policies
The state Department of Environmental Protection has warned people to stay out of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake, because of a massive Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) encompassing most of the lake.
Swimming areas have been closed, and the DEP has urged people not to participate in water sports or have any contact with the water. Phosphorus levels in the lake are the highest in 17 years of data. Other New Jersey swimming areas, including Spruce Run in Hunterdon County, have also been closed recently because of HABs.
“Lake Hopatcong is closed and will be closed for the foreseeable future because of a massive Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB). The lake is headed toward an ecological disaster. The algae blooms produce toxins that endanger people, pets and wildlife, causing severe skin rashes and other illnesses. People can’t swim, and shouldn’t even touch the water. This is a clear sign of failed policies to protect clean water by controlling overdevelopment and stormwater runoff. Lake Hopatcong has become the largest stormwater basin in the state, and the DEP needs to take action,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
“The July 4 holiday is here, and the largest recreation lake in the state is closed. People can’t go into the lake at all. This is another shameful indicator of our failure to protect our waterways.”
Other lakes across the state have been closed to swimming and water sports, or are under advisories. The Swartswood Lake State Park recently reopened after a Harmful Algal Bloom. Lake Mohawk in Sparta is under an ongoing advisory. Lakes in New York and Pennsylvania have also been closed because of algae blooms.
“DEP’s failure to follow the Clean Water Act has led to the closure of Lake Hopatcong. They have failed at watershed management, managing stormwater, septics and sewers. Overdevelopment has put more houses and septics in the area on every lot, and more fertilizer to be washed into the lake. They have turned Lake Hopatcong into an algae-polluted swamp. The lake is a backup reservoir at the headwaters of the Musconetcong, and it may become a dead body of water,” said Tittel.
“The state came out with TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Load) for lakes, but they’ve never set proper standards or implemented them. The result is lakes being closed, eutrophying and potentially dying.”
The Lake Hopatcong algae bloom is the result of a combination of warm weather, still water and high levels of nutrients. The recent series of intense storms followed by temperatures 80 degrees and above has washed large amounts of nutrients into the lake and allowed bacteria to thrive.
The phosphorus level in the lake is the highest in 17 years of data. The DEP said it is the largest algae bloom they’ve seen, and could last for months depending on weather conditions.
“Warm weather and high levels of nutrients cause algae blooms to thrive. The bloom in Lake Hopatcong is the largest ever in New Jersey, covering most of the lake. The phosphorus level is the highest ever recorded and could last for months. The phosphorus provides an abundance of food for algae to feed on. The state’s continued encouragement of overdevelopment and sprawl, and its failure to protect our watersheds, is putting more nutrients in the lake.
“No one should have any contact with the water in Lake Hopatcong, including pets. The toxic algae can cause severe rashes and other illnesses. Other lakes and swimming areas are also being closed because of HABs, including the Spruce Run reservoir. Summer is here and we’re running out of places to swim,” said Tittel.
“The pollution in Lake Hopatcong will get worse. People living all around Lake Hopatcong will be unable to use it. The lake will eutrophy and stink as the algae sucks oxygen out of the lake. What’s left will be a giant, stagnant pool of polluted water, creating an environmental and public health disaster.”
Freshwater HABs are caused by bacteria and thrive with high temperature and nutrient levels. They produce toxins that endanger human, pets, livestock and wildlife and can cause allergic skin reactions and other illnesses is swallowed.
People are urged not to have any contact with the water. Fish caught in the lake should not be eaten. The Swartswood Lake State Park swimming area recently reopened after being closed for a HAB. Lake Mohawk in Sparta is under an advisory because of high bacteria levels.
“For years we’ve ignored the problem in Lake Hopatcong. Skimmers have been taking out hundreds and sometimes thousands of tons of weeds and algae every year without dealing with the underlying problems.
“In 2018, nearly 1,800 tons of weeds were harvested, the third highest total since 2002. However the Murphy administration has not rolled back anything to strengthen protections and reduce water pollution. This is failure of government to do its job, enforce the Clean Water Act, and address TMDL, stormwater and septic management. Climate change will only worsen all of these impacts, with higher temperatures and more rain,” said Tittel.
“We usually don’t see HABs like this until August. Lake Hopatcong now has the biggest we’ve ever seen in the state, and July has just started.”
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 state needs to move forward with watershed protections. We need to establish stream buffers and enforce real TMDL standards in our lakes. We need to toughen rules on stormwater management and bring back Septic Management Districts. We need to reduce overdevelopment and sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas. Otherwise the pollution will only get worse.
“Conditions at Lake Hopatcong will deteriorate, and other lakes will be shut down for extended periods as well. New Jersey doesn’t have enough public swimming areas as it is, and now more and more of them are closing because of algae blooms.
“As the weather gets hotter, we are only going to see more beaches and swimming areas becoming too dangerous to use,” said Tittel. “The state needs to take immediate action to reduce pollution into our lakes and waterways.”