The Lake Hopatcong Commission retained two planning consultants at its January meeting.

The consultants, Eric Snyder of Newton and Ken Nelson of Sussex, will advise the planning and zoning boards in the four municipalities on the specific issues of development applications in the watershed of Lake Hopatcong.

Commissioner Fred Steinbaum explained the commission believes the boards are granting too many variances from their ordinances and allowing too much development in the watershed. He also said the regulations governing impervious cover are too lenient, allowing too much runoff into the lake.

“They need stricter rules,” Steinbaum said. “We can’t control the weather, but we can make an effort to control what goes into the lake.”

He was referring to the fact that the harmful algal bloom in Lake Hopatcong and other lakes in the Northeast last summer was due to both weather and nutrients washing into the lake.

Steinbaum described the two consultants as “very skilled” and experienced in development in watersheds.

“They will attend critical meetings,” Steinbaum said.

After the meeting, Steinbaum said he is interested in educating the people who live in the watershed.

“The people in the watershed must understand,” he explained, adding that the towns are allowing overbuilding in sensitive areas in the mistaken belief it will bring more tax revenue into the municipalities without negative consequences. However, development that damages the lake will lower the values around the lake.

Commission Secretary Colleen Lyons said she will continue to attend some planning and zoning meetings if the consultants aren’t needed, but some lake issues may be discussed.

Both Snyder and Nelson will be paid $105 an hour. The exact number of hours will depend of how often they are needed at meetings.

Steinbaum said he didn’t anticipate needing them indefinitely, because eventually the municipalities would start doing things.

He was hoping to get the commission to agree to hire a storm water facilities manager. He said the municipal Departments of Public Works cleaned the storm drains, but it would help if someone working for the commission assisted them. He said he believes the commission can afford it, especially this year when it spent $50,000 less than anticipated on weed harvesting.

The commission budgeted $355 for weed harvesting, but spent $305, according to Commission Chair Ron Smith.

During the public comment session, resident Carol Kitchen asked if any of the weed harvester operators would be qualified to advise the DPWs.

Commission Vice Chair Dan McCarthy said when the commission was first formed Mike Calderio, the full-time operator, assisted the towns with catch basin retrofits.

McCarthy said the state Department of Transportation is of the mindset that the purpose of catch basins is to keep water off the streets for safety, but they don’t think about where it goes when it leaves the roads.

The commission took no action on hiring a storm water facilities manager.

Causes of HAB

During his report to the commission, Fred Lubnow of PrincetonHydro environmental consultants presented slides on the causes of the summer’s algal bloom

He explained his firm has been monitoring the lake for 30 years with 11 sampling stations, including one in mid-lake for deep-water sampling.

Lubnow said the bloom started after heavy rains followed quickly by a heat wave in June. The heavy rains “rinsed the watershed,” he said, washing nutrients into the lake.

An algal bloom is fed by phosphorus. Lubnow explained when oxygen levels are lowered the chemical bond between phosphorus and iron breaks and the phosphorus is free for algae to feed on it.

“High seasonal temperatures and still water equal high phosphorus,” he said.

The steady increase in annual temperature results in a higher surface water temperature. He said 2019 was the first year the middle of the lake was not an optimum habitat for brown trout. The loss of habitat of a valuable recreational fish is another disturbing result of the climate changing, Lubnow said, and proof of a temperature increase.

Noting the lake has seen algal blooms in the past, Lubnow said this is the first in many years to have occurred early in the season. He said the wet spring left the water higher and cloudier, as evidenced by the smaller amount of weeds harvested.

Steinbaum asked him if the board should consider altering the weed harvesting schedule.

He explained it was still necessary to harvest the weeds since that is a good way to remove nutrients from the water.

Cyanotoxins (the harmful algae) are bad, he said, adding, “I would rather have clear water and have to manage weeds.”

He said when the commission gets the state funding promised to assist the lake, PincetonHydro will study the best methods for preventing further blooms.

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