ROXBURY, NJ - The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today lifted its advisory about bodily contact with water in one area of Lake Hopatcong, a place you get to only with a boat.

The DEP lifted the no-contact advisory for Indian Harbor, but left the advisory in effect for everywhere else in the lake, a popular, state-owned recreation area impacted by an outbreak of bacteria called a "harmful algal bloom" that can cause illnesses if ingested or touched.

In fact, the most recent tests showed that the harmful algal bloom (HAB) increased in scope throughout the lake this week. Until today's announcement, the DEP - noting that HABs move around with wind and currents - shied away from saying any parts of the lake could be considered safe.

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However, the state has been under pressure to avoid blanket warnings about coming into contact with lake water. Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo was among those who recently said the DEP should be more precise in issuing swim advisories.

Just Below the Threshold

"Measurements in Indian Harbor indicate that cyanobacteria levels are below the State’s 20,000 cells per milliliter advisory threshold," said the DEP late today, referring to cells of cyanobacteria creating the algal bloom.

"Bacteria levels at Indian Harbor were 19,000 on July 23, and 18,500 on July 25," the state said. "It is very important for visitors to be aware that elevated bacteria levels continue throughout the majority of the lake."

The DEP noted that Indian Harbor is only accessible by boat, but "is near beaches that will not be accessible due to continued high bacteria levels, including 24,750 at Pebble Beach, 24,500 at Sand Harbor and 26,750 as Bass Rock Beach."

In fact, the latest aerial examination of the lake, along with actual water tests, show that the ongoing HAB is actually worse now in many areas than it has been since the bloom was first noticed in late June.

The DEP said the flight that took place Wednesday showed that areas with the HAB "seem to have significantly increased in intensity and spatial coverage." The state added that, "the bloom appears to be lake wide."

And cell counts in almost every spot tested on Tuesday were found to be above the DEP's advisory threshhold. For example, the Tuesday sampling at Hopatcong State Park found 47,250 cells/ml, Mount Arlington Beach came in at 30,500 cells/ml and the middle of the lake registered 60,750 cells/ml.

Nothing Toxic Yet

None of the tests showed levels of dangerous toxins above the state advisory level, but the DEP says HAB cells below that level can still cause skin rashes and other ailments.

Faring worse than Lake Hopatcong is Greenwood Lake, where scientists are finding far higher levels of both HAB cell counts and toxins. 

“We rely on science to tell the public when it is safe to swim in Lake Hopatcong,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe in announcing the Indian Harbor news.“We are pleased to lift the advisory in Indian Harbor, but urge caution to anyone planning to enjoy the lake this weekend because bacteria levels remain high in the majority of the lake. The advisory applies only to bodily contact with the water. Boating and other non-contact recreation are not considered dangerous.”