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$10 million to flow into NJ lakes to combat algae blooms, stormwater runoff

jbrotton

William Westhoven

Morristown Daily Record

Resuming the battle against harmful algae blooms that have closed New Jersey lakes in recent years, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced a $10 million grant program to support waterbody conservation and combat pollution.

The lakes management grants program will fund projects to mitigate stormwater and runoff that can flow fertilizers and pollutants into the lakes, said DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette. Fertilizers in particular can contribute to algae growth that is unhealthy for humans and wildlife.

“Investments such as rain gardens or stormwater improvements to restore and protect natural resources in our watersheds help protect communities from damaging storms, reduce the impacts of climate change that are favorable to harmful algal blooms and improve water quality,” LaTourette said.

Local governments, lake commissions, nonprofit organizations and other entities established specifically to manage publicly accessible waterbodies are eligible for funding. Applications are available online and are due by May 28. Details of the program can be found on the DEP website.

A weed harvester passes by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation's Floating Classroom. Sept. 19, 2019.

“I encourage all local leaders and organizations in northeastern New Jersey and in the Delaware River Watershed to apply for this grant funding so we help enhance their natural resources and environmental infrastructure," LaTourette said.

The funds come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.  

North Jersey senators Steven Oroho, Joseph Pennacchio and Anthony Bucco were the primary sponsors of the state legislation that authorized using the money for the lakes program as supplemental appropriation.

“This is an investment in preventing algae blooms that have impacted Lake Hopatcong, Greenwood Lake and other waters in the state,” said Pennacchio, whose district includes both lakes. “There is more to be done, but this is a significant development in preserving our lakes for the future.”

From left, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, with senators Joseph  Pennacchio and Oroho aboard the Lake Hopatcong Foundation's Floating Classroom, speaking to foundation president Marty Kane about algae blooms that prevented swimming there for most of the summer. Sept. 19, 2019.

“This announcement is welcome news to the residents, businesses and vacationers who rely and depend on New Jersey’s public lakes,” Oroho said.

Calling it a "public health crisis, Gov. Phil Murphy visited Lake Hopatcong during its partial closure in 2019 to announce the state would invest $13.5 million in state and federal funds into improving lake health.

"We cannot allow the summer we just experienced to repeat itself," Murphy said in a meeting that also included local officials and Congress members Mikie Sherrill, Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer.

The Lake Hopatcong Commission received $206,000 from that appropriation for water-quality studies. The Morris County Park Commission also received $495,000 to install green infrastructure features at Lee’s County Park Marina on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington. 

Stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution can endanger the water quality of lakes, DEP experts say. Increased runoff due to climate change carries excessive nutrients and impacts water temperatures, which can harm the ecosystem and contribute to persistent harmful algae blooms.

The blooms and other ecological issues also curb recreational activities and potentially have devastating impacts on the tourism economy of larger lake communities when critical summer revenue is lost.

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Smaller lake associations also risk losing critical membership revenue when unhealthy water conditions discourage paid membership and participation.

Projects that may be eligible for grant funding include:

  • Development and/or implementation of Lake Watershed Protection Plans, including updates to existing approved plans statewide;
  • Development and implementation of individual lake stormwater/non-point source pollution plans;   
  • Use of green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff in communities with aging combined wastewater stormwater infrastructure; 
  • Improvement of existing stormwater management infrastructure; 
  • Restoration or improvement to the water quality function of stream and waterbody riparian zones and/or wetland buffers; 
  • Watershed and lake management activities designed to improve lake water quality and maintain recreational and conservation uses of the qualifying lake;
  • Lakes with existing lake commissions for lake-management activities that will improve water quality and maintain recreational and conservation uses.

"Stormwater runoff has contributed to significant problems in the state's two most important destinations for summer recreation in northern New Jersey — Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake,” Bucco said. “This is an investment in the health of our lakes and the economies of our lake communities.”

William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]dailyrecord.com Twitter: @wwesthoven

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