After months of delays, the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) for Lake Hopatcong met in early February and scheduled meetings for the first Tuesday of every month.
The CAC was tasked years ago with providing input into the lake level. It is chaired by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representative to the Lake Hopatcong Commission, Josh Osowski; however, he had to confer with higher ups at the DEP to set the meetings, resulting in delays that were frustrating to the Commission.
Because of the warm winter and lack of ice, the CAC recommended a reduction in the lake drawdown.
The drawdown was set for 22 inches. Commissioner Fred Steinbaum said the lake has refilled about three inches and he would like to see the refill continue. “We’ve only had hard ice once this winter,” he said.
Annual drawdowns were once 36 inches, Commission Vice President Dan McCarthy explained at the Monday, February 10, meeting. The drop was reduced to 30 inches, then 26 inches and now is set for 22 inches in a pilot program to determine if that is sufficient to prevent dock damage in case the lake freezes.
The final responsibility for setting the lake drawdown falls on the Superintendent of Hopatcong State Park, Melissa Castellon. McCarthy said he is pleased she is soliciting input from the community.
Steinbaum said one thing that wasn’t addressed by the CAC was the possible effect of the lake level on the growth of cyanotoxins.
“Wet weather flushes nutrients into the lake,” environmental consultant Fred Lubnow of PrincetonHydro explained. He added that when the water level is low more sunlight reaches the vegetation, increasing the possibility of an algal bloom.
“When we get ice and a snow pack, it kills off the toxins,” he said.
Lubnow added he has looked at climate models. While winters are getting warmer and the chances of snow at Christmas are getting slimmer, “March is a wild card,” he said, “it can be light or brutal.”
Steinbaum also asked if the number of docks allowed around the lake or their size has an impact on Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB).
Lubnow said any time impervious cover is allowed, runoff increases. Docks are not impervious, but they are not the same as a vegetative surface.
The biggest problem is that docks seem to attract geese, which are a big source of phosphorus.
Commission Secretary Colleen Lyons noted the trend today is toward longer docks and bigger boathouses. She collects the applications from planning and zoning boards in the four lake communities and uploads them to the commission’s Dropbox for the Land Use Committee to review.
Land Use Committee Chair Robert Tessier, the state Department of Community Affairs representative to the commission, said the committee will look at applications for the whole drainage basin rather than just for lakefront property.
Tessier also reported the committee met with planning consultant Eric Snyder, who presented them with a budget. Snyder and consultant Ken Nelson will review applications and prepare reports on these applications. They charge $104 per hour and a flat fee of $150 for attending a planning or zoning meeting on behalf of the Land Use Committee. Tessier said Snyder estimated probably 30 meetings in the four municipalities, but that was before Jefferson Township consolidated its planning and zoning boards into a land use board.
Snyder and Nelson will also spend 25 hours in community outreach. One issue will address is appropriate dock size, Tessier said.
McCarthy said the commission created a set of maps that documents all catch basins in the watershed in the early 2000s. Lubnow said his office can overlay the road network on maps. He said other overlays can provide GPS information and the location of all outfall pipes.
The economic impact of the HAB seems obvious to the commissioners but has not been studied.
Lubnow said he has been conferring with Alan Hunt, director of policy and grants for the Musconetcong Watershed Association, about the possibility of diminished tax revenue from lake businesses because of the HABs.
“There have been studies on the relationship between clearer water and a higher tax base,” he said.
He said staff at PrincetonHydro is working on data. Lyons suggested the commission update the 2008 study of the economic significance of Lake Hopatcong.
McCarthy also reported on a HABs meeting at the Pequest Trout Hatchery in White Township chaired by Kerry Kirk-Pflug, director of the DEP’s Office of Local Government Assistance. Kirk-Pflug was the DEP representative to the Commission for a number of years.
The DEP looked into changing the limit over which HABs are considered harmful. New Jersey’s figure is much lower than that of many other states. McCarthy said it will not be raised anytime soon.
What will be changed is the messaging, McCarthy said. He said the DEP will call a public meeting to discuss messaging, probably in April.
“There needs to be better communication,” he said. Last year, signs were posted on Route 80 stating that beaches were closed when they weren’t all closed and otherwise exaggerating the reaction to the problem, which was harmful to residents and businesses.