Funding to combat harmful algal blooms, lake conservation advanced by committee

Funding to combat harmful algal blooms, lake conservation advanced by committee

Harold J. Wirths

TRENTON, N.J. – As lake communities look to rebound from state shutdowns in 2019 and 2020, the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved a measure providing $10 million for lake conservation and management efforts, including the mitigation of harmful algal blooms.

Under the bill (A5778/S3618), qualified entities like the Greenwood Lake Commission, the Lake Hopatcong Commission, the Deal Lake Commission and the Lake Topanemus Park Commission, may apply to the DEP for grants to help pay for certain costs associated with lake management and maintenance for recreation and conservation purposes.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Hal Wirths and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Bergen, who has been the driving force behind moving the bill in the Assembly, will prioritize projects that involve lakes with public access.

“Businesses and communities surrounding our state lakes really need a successful summer this year,” Wirths (R-Sussex) said. “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.”

Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake, along with several other bodies of water in the area, have suffered from high levels of harmful algal blooms the past few summers. Harmful algal blooms occur when colonies of microscopic algae or bacteria grow at exponential rates and produce toxins harmful to humans and animals. When the blue-green algae concentrates rose above the state’s safety threshold, the DEP closed the lakes to recreational activities and swimming.

Brian Bergen

“Lakes like Hopatcong are an economic resource for an entire region,” said Bergen (R-Morris). “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.”

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.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate on June 3. It now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.