ROXBURY, NJ – The state government needs to step-up and do the right thing for Lake Hopatcong by spending a lot more on summertime weed removal, says an online petition drive.

The effort, spearheaded by the non-profit Lake Hopatcong Foundation, insists Trenton has dropped the ball when it comes to weed control on the lake. The state, 15 years ago, committed $500,000 annually to weed control on the 2,500-acre lake - New Jersey's largest - but subsequently cut the spending. Last year, it spent only $155,000, a level that left many areas choked with unwanted aquatic plants

“The fact that this state lake has received less and less financial support from Trenton each year is ... devastating for the long-term health of the ecosystem,” says the Foundation.

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“It’s been frustrating,” said Lake Hopatcong Foundation President Jessica Murphy. “Over the years, the state provided less and less funding … which is obviously very important to the health of the lake.”

The state changed the way it supported weed removal on the lake. Initially, the practice was administered by the Lake Hopatcong Commission but that system was changed about four years ago when weed control was placed in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)..

Then, the state re-allocated, to open-space acquisition, most of the weed harvesting money, said Murphy “so the DEP had to figure out other ways to get money for weed harvesting. It was able to get some, the $155,000, but that’s not nearly enough.”

As coves became choked with plants last summer, the Foundation donated $15,000 for weed removal and Jefferson Township pitched in $10,000. This allowed weed removal to continue through September.

The state has suggested towns bordering the lake, including Roxbury, should help pay for the weed harvesting. Roxbury officials have repeatedly denounced that idea, pointing out the lake is owned by the state and open to all state residents. They also note the township’s expenditures on sewers in the Landing area help prevent weed growth by stopping the influx of nutrients from failing lakeside septic systems.

“The four towns around the lake are so different,” said Murphy. “The portion of Roxbury on the lake is relatively small compared Roxbury’s geographical area, so it would be a hard sell for Roxbury officials to say, `We are going to allocate resources to Lake Hopatcong.'"

However, she added that "when you have four towns and two counties involved, sometimes your voice gets a little diluted or everybody gets pulled in different directions.”

Those who use, or even just care about, Lake Hopatcong were stunned by the level of weed growth that took place in 2015, said Murphy. “It was kind of universally understood this past summer was one of the worse, if not the worse, that many people who’ve been at this lake a long time have seen,” she said. “It was startlingly bad … The northern end didn’t get touched (with weed harvesting) until late August.

The petition drive says the state’s mismanagement of the weed problem “has caused parts of the lake to be unnavigable, and monitoring data has shown that the reduced weed harvests of recent years have reversed the long-term trend of improved water quality on the lake.”

The petition will be sent to the State House, the State Senate, the governor, the DEP commissioner and area legislators.