Algal Blooms Are a Growing Problem in New Jersey Lakes

Businesses and residents calling for state Department of Environmental Protection to take swifter action in treating and preventing high levels of cyanobacteria

John Russo owns the South Shore Marina on Greenwood Lake where the state Department of Environmental Protection posted a no-swimming advisory July 16 after tests showed high levels of cyanobacteria. He’s angry at the state for declaring the crisis at the height of the summer tourist season after ignoring the problem for years, he claims.

Greenwood has been tested for cyanobacteria since 2015 by a team from Montclair State University. It exceeded state thresholds then, but Professor Meiyin Wu says DEP takes action only after it gets public complaints.

Algal blooms have happened before, and it’s a growing problem. It’s literally fed by nutrients in stormwater and aided by a warming climate.

Last year, Greenwood received a grant from New Jersey’s Highlands Commission to fund a study to improve the lake’s health, but Jeff Tittel from the New Jersey Sierra Club says DEP is supposed to monitor total maximum daily loads of phosphorus washing into lakes — and hasn’t.

The state agency responded, “The DEP has in place a proactive municipal stormwater management permit system and tough fertilizer requirements aimed at reducing phosphorous from getting into waterways.”

DEP urges residents and municipalities to properly maintain septic and sewer systems and use non-phosphorus fertilizers, but notes, “Unfortunately, there is no way to effectively treat large lakes. These blooms have to dissipate naturally.”

There are alternatives, like an aeration technique that uses air bubbles to float algae to the surface and skim it off. Also, chemicals cleared one lake in Maine of severe blooms.
Businesses and residents in New Jersey want DEP to fix this — and fast. But any remedy will take time, money and political will.