ROXBURY, NJ – It’s a rather boring video that might be exciting to those who love - or make their livings off - Lake Hopatcong.

Shot by a drone hovering above Landing Channel in Roxbury, the video shows a weaving boat leaving in its wake a milky zig-zag pattern, sort of like a jet contrail. Piano music supplements the somnolence.

It is the stuff creating that design that could make the otherwise sleep-inducing clip compelling to lake people. The white material dispersing in the water is called Phoslock and it has the potential to prevent Lake Hopatcong from succumbing to another summer of fun-stopping, economy-crushing harmful algal blooms (HABs).

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The video was shot by a staffer at Princeton Hydro, a water quality consultancy that spread about 22,000 pounds of Phoslock over about 50 acres of Landing Channel this week.

Getting Ahead of the HAB

Phoslock is a clay-based material that binds with phosphorous, the primary food of the Cyanobacteria that cause HABs. By removing the bacteria’s source of sustenance, Princeton Hydro hopes to stop the potentially dangerous HABs before they grow out of control as they did last year on Lake Hopatcong forcing beach closures and warnings by the state to stay away from the water.

“The Phoslock is more of a proactive, not a reactive, treatment,” said Princeton Hydro Director of Aquatic Programs Fred Lubnow. “You want to add it before you get the algae bloom. You’re cutting off their food supply … And this time of year - late spring to early summer - is the best time to do that treatment.”

If the Phoslock application in Landing Channel works, the procedure might be used in other HAB-prone areas of the lake. The work is being funded by a state grant.

“This is the largest Phoslock treatment to occur in the northeastern U.S.,” noted the Lake Hopatcong Commission (LHC).

The commission partnered with Princeton Hydro, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF), four municipalities surrounding the lake and two counties to work on both short-term and long-term management strategies for the lake.

No Repeat of 2019, Please

“Lake Hopatcong suffered from large-scale and persistent HABs over the course of the 2019 summer season, where local and county health agencies closed off all beaches and issued advisories over large sections of the lake,” noted the LHC in a statement. “These unprecedented conditions had significant negative impacts on the ecological, recreational and economic resources of the lake and region.”

With the COVID-19 restrictions already hurting many lake area restaurants and other businesses, the last thing the lake economy needs is a repeat of last summer’s algal blooms.

“The negative effects of HABs in our lake last year were numerous, widespread, and in some cases devastating,” said Donna Macalle-Holly of Lake Hopatcong Foundation. “It is imperative for every stakeholder to pool our resources to keep it from happening again.”

LHC Chairman Ron Smith said the lake community “cannot sustain another year like 2019.”

By this time last summer, HABs were already covering many parts of Lake Hopatcong, but Lubnow said scientists are not seeing significant HABs forming on the lake so far this year.

“I was on lake last Friday and it looked considerably better than it did last year,” he said. “Last year, it already had a nasty scum ... The phosphorous levels this year are lower than last year, which is good. The weather pattern this year has been very different. Last year we had very intense short storms, then two or three days of sunny weather. That’s what triggered those blooms. It’s been cooler this year, particularly at night, and Cyanobacteria prefer warmer water.”

The Phoslock treatment makes the water temporarily cloudy, a condition that diminishes as the material sinks to the bottom, where it continues to trap phosphorous, according to Princeton Hydro.

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