ROXBURY, NJ - The harmful algal bloom (HAB) that continues to thwart summertime fun on Lake Hopatcong is also taking a toll on education: It has forced the Lake Hopatcong Foundation to suspend its new Floating Classroom program.

The non-profit organization, based in Landing, already canceled one of its planned educational trips on the craft (on July 8) and has pulled the plug on the one scheduled for July 15, said Lake Hopatcong Foundation President Jessica Murphy.

A state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) advisory warning people to not come in contact with Lake Hopatcong water, or let their pets do so, has been in effect since late June. Swimming continues to be banned at public beaches on the lake.

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The state says the HAB, which is actually a bacterial growth in the water, can cause skin rashes and, if ingested, gastrointestinal illness.

Coming in contact with lake water is a big part of the Floating Classroom project. Students conduct science experiments on the lake, including water clarity tests.  

"We are not conducting our Floating Classroom program (our Monday public cruises and our partnerships with summer camps) while the advisory is in effect," Murphy said. She said the summer camp, with the Sussex County Charter School of Technology, "was supposed to be using the boat this week (but) instead had a series of activities at Hopatcong State Park run by our staff and volunteers."

Those activities included a tour of the Lake Hopatcong museum, a nature hike and an "Enviroscape" presentation, Murphy said. "It hasn’t been ideal, to say the least, but we’re trying to make the best of it while also keeping everyone safe."

Floating Watchdogs

The DEP and the U.S. Geological Survey this week deployed high-tech real-time monitoring buoys on the lake, devices that will help it monitor the HAB.

"There is no scientifically sound treatment to eliminate HABs from water bodies, so advanced and continuous monitoring is the key element in protecting health and assessing when the lake is safe for recreation," said the state.

Water tests taken Thursday show cell concentrations of the cyanobacteria to have increased in some sections of the lake, including Byram Cove - a popular place for boaters to hang out on summer weekends. The cell count take Thursday came in at 47,500 cells/mL in the cove. The prior sample, taken July 9, showed 29,875 cells/mL. The state's "health advisory guidance level" for cyanobacteria cells is 20,000 cells/mL.

“We share the frustrations of local residents, business owners and leaders about the widespread extent of this bloom and the impact it is having on the health of Lake Hopatcong and the local economy,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe in a statement. “These buoys will help us to better understand what is causing the Harmful Algal Blooms and may help us predict conditions that may cause future blooms. To help prevent these occurrences, it is important that residents and municipalities do whatever they can to help reduce the flow of nutrients to the lake, including improved stormwater management, routine septic system cleaning and reduced use of fertilizers.”

The buoys were deployed at two locations in the center of the lake. "This is the first time these types of buoys have been utilized in a lake in New Jersey," noted the DEP. "They will feed data constantly to DEP by way of cellular communication. The data they collect will supplement data the DEP has been collecting along shorelines, from boats, and from a state-of-the-art sensor used during weekly aerial surveillance. Monitoring will continue as long as necessary."


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