ROXBURY, NJ – Even as they are dealing with the ongoing virus crisis, Lake Hopatcong area officials are gearing up to fight another microscopic enemy: The bacteria that caused a harmful algal bloom (HAB) on the lake last summer.

Mayors from the towns bordering the lake, including Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo, conducted a telephone conference Wednesday to discuss the status of the anti-HAB projects. On the call was a representative of Princeton Hydro, a consulting firm that specializes in lakes, said DeFillippo.

“Princeton Hydro explained the various projects that are planned as a result of the grants we obtained from the state to combat the algal bloom,” he said. “We are looking at potential projects that would take place on Roxbury’s section of the lake, and we are excited and enthusiastic that we are taking proactive steps to head off the algal bloom this season.”

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In March, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced the award of $2.5 million in grants for nine demonstration projects around the state “that will implement and evaluate innovative technologies to mitigate and prevent harmful algal blooms.”

The largest grant, $500,000, was awarded to the Lake Hopatcong Commission. It will help fund a 2-year-long project that will entail nutrient reduction, direct treatment and habitat modification on the lake, said the DEP.

Microscopic Enemies

A summer-long HAB ruined recreation and tourism at Lake Hopatcong last summer as DEP urged people to stay away from the bacteria infused lake water.

Lake Hopatcong looks to be free of algal blooms so far, said Lake Hopatcong Foundation Board Chairman Marty Kane. “It really looks blue and beautiful,” he said. “I took some photos … Right now, things look good.”

However, Princeton Hydro and the DEP have already observed HABs forming in other lakes in the region, according to Kane.

He fears for small businesses around the lake that were adversely impacted by last year’s HAB. Many of these, particularly restaurants, are already suffering this year due to government-imposed shutdowns related to COVID-19.

Recreation on the lake, which ground to a stop last summer due to the HAB, is also being impacted by the virus fight, Hoping to stall the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy this week ordered the closure of all county and state parks, including Hopatcong State Park in Landing, and Lee’s County Park Marina in Mount Arlington. However, boating was spared from the governor’s executive order.

Those same parks were closed for most of last summer due to the persistent HABs that took place on the lake. The DEP warned that coming into contact with the green slime's cyanobacteria could cause sickness.

War Chest

Kane is staying optimistic. His hope; that the coronavirus threat wanes quickly and the bacteria doesn't return. “I think that, overall, we will get through this and eventually people will get to enjoying the lake this year,” he said. “But if we don’t take steps now (to fight HABs), we will pay that price later.”

The largest HAB grant, for $500,000, was awarded to the Lake Hopatcong Commission. It will help fund efforts aimed at nutrient reduction, direct treatment and habitat modification on the lake, said the DEP.

“The project will include evaluation of filtering media in two stormwater basins, three types of aerators, a product that inactivates the bacteria, treatment with non-copper algaecide, application of a charcoal-like biomass substance known as biochar to remove nutrients from near-shore waters and the consideration and/or installation of rain gardens,” explained the state.

Hopatcong Borough was granted $145,680 for a project “to demonstrate the effectiveness of bottom-diffused aeration and prevention of harmful algal blooms at Crescent Cove,” said the DEP. It said the aeration system will be installed along the entire length of the cove, beginning at the River Styx Bridge.

Roxbury’s role will likely be in the form of manpower, from its public works department, for stormwater runoff system work.