Two North Jersey State Senators expressed support for the new color-coded public health alert index for harmful algal blooms (HABs) produced by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
State Sens. Anthony Bucco and Steve Oroho both are encouraged by the index which provides guidance on recreational use to the public based on different count levels of cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxins present. The index has multiple alert categories, each providing recommendations based on water monitoring results.
Bucco noted Lake Hopatcong, Greenwood Lake and other recreational lakes around New Jersey were shut down in 2019 for much of the summer due to the high standards the state has for HABs, which adversely affected lakeside economies.
“With the current economic challenges of COVID-19, I am encouraged by the fact that the NJDEP listened to our concerns and developed a much more reasonable and nuanced approach to managing algal blooms that will prevent unnecessary additional harm to our lakeside businesses,” said Bucco (R-25).
Last year, NJDEP closed Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake, among others, to recreational activities like swimming, wading and water sports. The new guidelines allow recreational activities to continue in more situations where blooms are detected.
During smaller blooms, at count levels when recreational activity would have been prohibited previously, people will instead be provided with clear signage of the alert level to allow for informed decisions to be made, said Bucco.
Both state senators noted that under the new guidelines, lakes that closed down in 2019 would be able to operate in 2020.
“Under the new system, lakes that were closed completely last year could remain open to various forms of recreation in many instances,” added Bucco. “This aligns the management of New Jersey’s lakes more closely with policies that have proven safe in other states, while giving people more information and choice about the risks they are willing to accept.”
“This is the best news in a long time for municipalities and local businesses suffering under the strict COVID restrictions,” Oroho said. “The lake area needs a strong summer tourist season to begin recovering. I am optimistic that NJDEP has adopted a more prudent path and one our residents can understand.”
Oroho and Bucoo, along with State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26), are sponsors of legislation to allocate $10 million of constitutionally dedicated Corporation Business Tax revenues for grants for certain lake management activities for recreation and conservation purposes.
“This is a step in the right direction, but we need a permanent source of money to protect the lakes,” said Oroho. “DEP can run with our idea and use already-approved money without waiting for the Legislature to act. It’s a sensible solution to an ongoing problem.”