the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Greenwood Lake NJ, Greenwood Lake this week became the latest New Jersey lake to be closed due to high bacteria levels from toxic algae blooms. Several other lakes either remain closed or have been closed because of toxic algae, including Lake Hopatcong, the largest recreational lake in the state. People are advised not to have any contact with the water. The lake closures have further exposed the shortage of public swimming areas in North and Central Jersey.
“This will be the hottest weekend of the summer, and people won’t have places to swim because of the state’s failure to adequately protect our lakes and fund our parks. Greenwood Lake, Lake Hopatcong and Spruce Run have all been shut down by toxic algae in time for one of the hottest weekends of the decade. Swartswood Lake was closed earlier this summer. Rosedale Lake in Mercer County is also closed. There are only 8 public swimming areas in all of North and Central New Jersey, and 3 of them are now closed. More may close after the hottest weather of the year,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “On a typical summer weekend, many swimming areas like Shepherd’s Pond turn people away by 10 a.m. because they are already filled. The lake closures will make things worse, increasing crowds and putting even more pressure on other swimming areas. People from Perth Amboy shouldn’t have to go to Round Valley to swim, and get there early in the morning just to get in.”
Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are formed from bacteria carried in by nutrients primarily from septics and lawn and garden fertilizer. The algae can cause severe skin rashes. If swallowed the polluted water can cause abdominal pain, headaches and vomiting. Pets should also be kept away from water where the algae blooms are present.
The state has not expanded swimming and recreational opportunities because of a lack of funding for parks. There have been serious cuts to operations and maintenance. A new public swimming area hasn’t opened since Wawayanda in 1981. The state never built a swimming area that was supposed to be built at Monksville Reservoir. Greenwood Lake has a state park, and a bathhouse and swimming area there were never built. A KOA campground in West Milford was bought and closed,” said Tittel. “I went myself with other people to Green Acres to try to get them to buy recreational lakes when they came up for sale, and was repeatedly told no because DEP didn’t have the money to maintain these facilities. Suntan Lake in Riverdale had a lake and a giant swimming pool. That’s now a Home Depot. Fountain Spring Lake in Ringwood is now an exclusive day camp. Hudson Guild in Byram has three lakes, and is now an exclusive hunting lodge. Crystal Springs in Hamburg is now a massive resort. Bubbling Springs in West Milford was leased to the town. McDonald’s Beach in Pequannock is closed and threatened with development. These all could have been needed public swimming areas.”
Water samples have been taken from four sites on the New Jersey side of Greenwood Lake, with all of them showing cyanobacteria levels significantly higher than the safe threshold of 20,000 cells per milliliter. The highest level was 212,000 cells per milliliter, nearly 10 times the state health standard. The Lake Hopatcong algae blooms at one point covered most of the lake.
“The reason we don’t have enough places to swim is because they took the money for parks away. The money put aside for capital repairs and parks was supposed to be $30 million a year. That has been cut to $8 million, and the new law the governor signed still shortchanges parks. We don’t have enough money to maintain and buy new places, and we have a $250 million backlog in emergency parks capital repairs. We also have $450 million in needed upgrades in our parks. Over the last decade the parks budget is down 40%, even as our open space has increased 40%,” said Tittel. “Part of the problem is that too many legislators have houses on Long Beach Island and don’t care about anywhere else. Too many environmental groups cater to the country-club set and not parks and people.”
The Murphy administration has failed to reverse 8 years of Gov. Christie’s rollbacks that have led to increased pollution and overdevelopment. Those rollbacks weakened protections for stormwater, allowed development in environmentally sensitive areas that impacts water quality, and reduced protections for streams and stream buffers.
“What is happening in our lakes is the direct result of state’s failure to properly protect our waterways. They have no watershed management programs. They have not addressed stormwater management and failed septics. They’ve done nothing with nutrient loads and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to limit pollutants. They have not controlled overdevelopment. DEP made the nutrification of our lakes a ‘low priority because it does not directly relate to human health issues.’ That’s false. The state does not use nutrients as a factor in their cleanup plans for the lakes,” said Tittel. “We need to strengthen rules on Stormwater Management, Flood Hazard and Water Quality Planning. We need to bring back Septic Management Districts and expand stream buffers. We need more funding for restoration projects for wetlands and natural systems, and to retrofit stormwater systems in existing developments. We must also fix our aging infrastructure and reduce nutrients from failed septics, leaky sewers and combined sewer overflows.”
Several other lakes in New Jersey have also been closed or placed under advisory because of toxic algae blooms. An advisory on Lake Mohawk in Sparta was recently lifted. Deal and Sunset lakes in Monmouth County have also been under advisory. The algae thrives on nutrients and warmer water temperatures.
“The state must devote more funding and make a much greater commitment to our parks and open spaces, or we will lose them. We have been fighting for more money to go to parks, and we will continue that fight. There are 17 million people a year visiting parks in New Jersey, generating $4 billion in outdoor recreation tourism. We need to keep our public places welcoming, and we need to expand public opportunities for swimming and recreation,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “When people this weekend have no place to swim and are shut out on a hot day we need to blame DEP for failing to fund our parks and protect our lakes. When they steal money from parks and parks capital, there are consequences. We don’t’ have enough places to swim, and the ones we have are closing because of toxic algae. That’s shameful.”