July 17, 2019

Toxic Algae Blooms Close Rosedale Lake To Swimming, Boating

By Anne Levin

There has been no swimming, boating, or fishing on Rosedale Lake at Pennington’s Mercer Meadows Park this summer. The culprit is the discovery of a harmful algal bloom (HAB), which has also closed the Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County and Lake Hopatcong in Morris and Sussex counties.

Stormwater experts blame the problem on a lack of watershed protections and stormwater management at the state level. But according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), updates to the state’s stormwater management rules, which were rolled back under the Christie administration, have been proposed and are pending adoption.

“This is going to be the summer of closed swimming areas. Rosedale Lake in Mercer County has now joined the list,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a press release. “The failure to implement proper watershed protections and stormwater management have allowed harmful algal blooms (HAB) to get out of hand. Lake Hopatcong has been shut down since June 27. The Spruce Run Reservoir has been off limits to swimmers for more than a month. Swartswood Lake was closed for a week in June before reopening. Overdevelopment and stormwater runoff are causing nutrients to pour into our lakes allowing the algae to thrive.”

Freshwater 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.

According to Mike Pisauro, policy director of The Watershed Institute, the presence of the HAB is not entirely abnormal. “But we need to step up prevention and reducing the sources of this stuff,” he said. “There were eight years of rollbacks on many levels during the Christie administration. The Murphy administration is moving, but probably not as fast as many of us would like. But they are moving forward.”

In part, Pisauro said, the harmful blooms are caused by nutrient-rich
stormwater that is picked up from lawns, fields, and agricultural fields. “If we don’t control and treat that runoff, it goes into our streams. And climate change is making temperatures warmer, which is another important factor. Plus, we are getting more significant rainfalls in shorter periods of time. It all adds up.”

Tittel concurs. “We are seeing more and more what happens when we eliminate environmental protections and don’t protect our waterways.” he said. “We fail to control overdevelopment and stormwater runoff. Warmer temperatures and more rain means more runoff bringing septics and fertilizer into the lakes. Those nutrients are turning our lakes into algae-polluted soups, and people shouldn’t even have contact with the water. The algae can cause severe skin rashes and other illnesses. Climate change will only worsen the impacts. We’re creating a vicious cycle that will only bring higher temperatures, more rain, and more pollution. More beaches and swimming areas will close.”

Stormwater management has been a focus at The Watershed Institute. “We’ve been talking with municipalities to go above and beyond state minimums, so they are reducing the amounts of what goes off a property,” said Pisauro. “And we also stress that buffers along streams should be better protected so that nutrient-rich pollutants are filtered out before they get to the water.”

In March, Gov. Murphy signed the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act, giving municipalities, counties, and certain authorities the ability to establish stormwater utilities. But some environmentalists are concerned that the measure is not enough.

“We need to establish stream buffers and enforce real Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards that limit pollutants in our lakes,” said Tittel. “We need to toughen rules on stormwater management and bring back the Septic Management Districts Christie eliminated. We also need to reduce overdevelopment in environmentally sensitive areas. Our lakes are in a crisis, and we need to act fast before the damage becomes irreversible.”