Legislation sponsored by North Jersey lawmakers in the State Senate and Assembly to supply critical funding to maintain Lake Hopatcong, Greenwood Lake and other lakes in the Highlands and Pinelands regions has been approved by the New Jersey Senate.
“Our lakes are critical to the ecological and economic well-being of New Jersey, but they have been consistently underfunded by the State,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “This appropriation represents the most significant investment in Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake in recent memory, if not ever. We’ll continue fighting to make this funding permanent to ensure our lakes get the support they need each and every year.”
The legislation in the State Senate, S-3618, sponsoredLegislation sponsored by State Sens. Pennacchio, Steve Oroho, and Anthony Bucco makes a supplemental appropriation of $10 million for grants for certain lake management activities for recreation and conservation purposes.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would be required to develop a process for evaluating and ranking applications for grants, with priority given to projects improving water quality and increasing recreational access, including efforts to control nutrient levels in lakes to prevent harmful algal blooms (HABs).
The bill provides priority funding for projects located in the Highlands Region and Pinelands area in recognition of the critical role lakes in these ecologically significant locations provide in the supply of drinking water to residents throughout the State, watershed protection, and for recreation and conservation purposes.
Back in March last year, the DEP awarded $2.5 million in grants for nine local projects to mitigate and prevent harmful algal blooms. These blooms were a critical area of concern, highlighted by Rep. Josh Gottheimer back in February 2020.
“Our lake communities have been devastated in back-to-back years by the financial impact of algal blooms and the coronavirus pandemic,” said Oroho (R-24). “After they’ve suffered so much, it is even more critical that the state step up to meet the need. With this substantial appropriation, we will help these important lakes remain healthy and open to the public.”
The legislation requires the DEP to approve applications submitted by the Greenwood Lake Commission and the Lake Hopatcong Commission, with each commission guaranteed a minimum grant award of $750,000.
“Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake are two of the most important destinations for summer recreation in northern New Jersey, so it’s important we guarantee them a significant level of funding,” added Bucco (R-25). “This money will help these lakes address algal blooms and weed proliferation that have threatened both boating and swimming for many years. It’s my hope that this appropriation is just the first step in securing recurring state funding for the future needs of our lakes.”
The health and maintenance of lakes has been an important priority for New Jersey lawmakers over the past several months. Last December, lawmakers touted the passage of the Water Resources Development Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill that would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on water resource projects across the country, and would provide funding for projects in New Jersey.
The Assembly’s version of the bill was voted out of committee on June 16. A co-sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24) said “Businesses and communities surrounding our state lakes really need a successful Summer this year. Between the harmful algal blooms that closed beaches in 2019 and the Covid restrictions that shut down all recreational activities on the lake last year, we really need a win. It’s more important now than ever to invest in programs that will preserve our freshwater lakes.”
This year, the toxic blooms are already responsible for swimming bans at Spruce Run Reservoir’s state park in Hunterdon County, Swartswood Lake in Sussex County, Glen Rock Pond in Bergen County, the Manasquan Reservoir in Monmouth County and Mountain Lake in Warren County. People who come into contact with harmful algal blooms may develop skin rashes, abdominal pain, headaches and sore throats.
“Lakes like Hopatcong are an economic resource for an entire region,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-25). “Summer is when we see the most revenue generating activity, so we need to preserve public access through proper lake maintenance. Preventing and managing harmful algal blooms is critical to ensuring a safe environment for swimmers and a prosperous season for small businesses.”