Harmful algal blooms at dangerous levels pop up in NJ

An interactive map by the Department of Environmental Protection shows different warning levels for harmful algal blooms, or cyanobacteria. The pea soup-like bacteria can be found in lakes throughout the state.

Meiyin Wu, the director of New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology, took NJTV News to an affected lake in Verona.

“Until very recently we’ve seen a lot of lakes that were either advisory or at alert level. If you see orange stay out. If you see red definitely run away. If it’s black you don’t want to be close to it, and we have been seeing red popping on the map,” she said.

While a lot of attention has been on larger recreational lakes due to the tourism season, Wu says it’s important to educate people on smaller water bodies that also have harmful algal blooms.

“For a small neighborhood lake like this, like inside a county, city, state park, it attracts a lot of daily uses. And for that this could be a great concern because young children could be having a picnic with parents near the water, and fisherman could be coming here for fish every weekend and it poses a great danger to the public,” Wu said.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio represents the district that encompasses both Greenwood Lake and Lake Hopatcong. He says the state needs to do more to help businesses that may be hit hard by the harmful algal blooms on top of pandemic-related losses.

“These HABs, these cyanobacteria, have been around for 3.5 billion years, so they were here before us and will be here after us. We’ve learned to adapt and get used to them. I don’t want to see an overreaction to the future. I want to see this issue resolved based on the sound of science,” Pennacchio said.

The Department of Environmental Protection hosted a virtual meeting on the state’s response to the HABs, which included awarding $3.5 million in grants for projects to reduce the impacts of pollution and the development of a watershed restoration plan to mitigate HABs.

“Hopefully over the next two years we will be getting important data which will let us know what is working and what isn’t working,” said Bruce Friedman, who works for water monitoring and standards at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The department says in addition to investigating reports of suspected HABs by the public, they also conduct lake flights every Tuesday from May to October to estimate algal activity. They strongly advise anyone heading to a lake this weekend to use the interactive map to check whether it’s safe to swim in.