Go Jump in a New Jersey Lake…
The weather is getting warmer, and we are all thinking about outdoor activities and planning outings with friends and family.
But when we get to the lake, we find a sign saying the beach is closed for swimming due to a harmful algal bloom, or HAB as they are now commonly known. Looking at the green water, we understand that something isn’t right, but what?
HABs are caused by the rampant growth, or “bloom,” of cyanobacteria in waters that are warm, exposed to plenty of sunlight, and with access to nutrients. Although not true algae, they are referred to as blue-green algae due to the color they produce in water systems.
Besides being completely unappetizing for swimming or water sports, HABs can be unhealthy because cyanobacteria produce toxins as they grow which are poisonous to humans, pets and wildlife. Unfortunately, lakes across New Jersey, as well as the region, have been experiencing an increasing number of such blooms in recent years.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has released a Response Strategy for dealing with HABs including a dynamic reporting system and color-based advisory system. These programs provide excellent information for reporting HABs once they occur but do not address their prevention or treatment.
The recreational uses of lakes in New Jersey warrant reasonable investment to protect them. While the state has provided a steady stream of funding to the New Jersey Shore for a host of research, environmental, cultural, and tourism purposes, there has rarely been a source of funding for New Jersey’s 1,700+ water bodies, including more than 400 publicly accessible lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
The protection of lakes and adjacent lands preserves and creates jobs and tourism opportunities, protects fisheries, enhances property values, decreases local government expenditures and provides recreational opportunities. New Jersey needs to be proactive in finding ways to prevents HABs from occurring while effectively and safely treating them if they should occur.
Despite millions of people who use our lakes for a host of recreational purposes and the income generated from everything from boat sales to fishing licenses to lakefront dining, assistance to the state’s public lakes was never deemed worthy of a budget line. It is estimated that HABs impact local businesses by as much as 70% when they strike local recreational areas, emptying local marinas, bait shops, restaurants, and state parks.
Per the Marine Trades association, the economic impact of boating in New Jersey supports approximately 12,000 jobs and $2.2 billion dollars in spending. Some 984,000 anglers spend over $800 million while fishing in New Jersey each year. In Morris & Sussex Counties alone, it is estimated by the American Sportfishing Association that anglers spend over $150 million, supporting some 1,100 jobs.
For the first time, last year’s New Jersey draft budget contained funding plus one NJDEP salary to address lake management and restoration in the state. However, the funding was removed from the budget because of the need to address the COVID emergency.
It originally appeared that similar language would be included in the 2022 draft budget, which was just released, but this did not occur. There is no budget item to protect our lakes and address HABs despite forecasts of increasing risk for the 2021 spring and summer seasons.
It is urged that the 2022 New Jersey State Budget be updated and a funding line for lakes be added. Our coasts and our lakes are more than just beautiful areas to visit. They are economic boons. But they are a bust if neglected.
Eileen Murphy, PhD
Vice President, Government Relations
Eileen Murphy is NJ Audubon's Vice President of Government Relations. She has previously served in a senior leadership position at Rutgers and was Assistant Director and Director of Science, Research and Technology at NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Lake Hopatcong Foundation
Marty Kane is chair of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation dedicated to the health and welfare of New Jersey's largest lake. He previously worked as an attorney and served as a senior manager within the Department of Defense.