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Greenwood Lake Commission Call for Emergency Investment to Combat Toxic Algae

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State of New Jersey has taken critical first steps — Gottheimer, Sherrill, Payne, Kim request immediate mid-year state appropriations to help all lakes deal with Algae Bloom — Gottheimer requests EPA technical assistance, investment.

Today, Thursday, January 23, 2020, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) sounded the alarm on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) continuing to impact lakes throughout New Jersey.

In November, the State of New Jersey announced critical first steps of $13 million matching investments to combat toxic algae wreaking havoc on the state’s lakes, local businesses, and residents. Some Jersey lakes, like the Fifth District’s Greenwood Lake, lack the resources needed to match the state’s investment — or may only qualify for part of it.

In 2019, there were more than 70 suspected and 39 confirmed harmful algae blooms in New Jersey — higher levels than the previous two years.  

Today, Gottheimer called on steps to combat Harmful Algal Blooms at every angle:

  • Emergency Mid-Year New Jersey Appropriations: Gottheimer, along with Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Tom Malinowski (NJ-7), Donald Payne , Jr. (NJ-10), and Andy Kim (NJ-3), wrote to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, and New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin requesting immediate passage of an emergency mid-year appropriations package to bring additional, much-needed investment to address HABs issues across the state.

  • Boosting EPA Technical Assistance and Investment Throughout the Fifth District: Gottheimer also announced plans to boost technical assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Fifth District, and working with North Jersey municipalities and lake commissions to claw back EPA investment opportunities to combat HABs.

  • Distributing EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund Investment to New Jersey Lakes: Gottheimer further called on New Jersey to distribute investment from the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund to all lakes impacted throughout the state.

“Right now, countless lakes, ponds, reservoirs and rivers all across New Jersey — including here at Greenwood Lake — are facing another summer with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), and we need to do everything we can to help combat another environmental crisis. In November, the Governor announced critical and welcomed first steps – and an important use of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. However, not all the lakes in Jersey, including Greenwood Lake, have the immediate resources to match those funds. To combat an environmental crisis, we can’t just help some, we need to work to help all,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Today, to help head off a crisis this summer, along with my colleagues from our Congressional delegation — Mikie Sherrill, Tom Malinowski, Don Payne, and Andy Kim — we are asking the state to immediately pass an emergency mid-year appropriations package to bring additional, much-needed investment to address these issues affecting lakes across the state. This can’t be done one off, lake by lake. It needs to look at every lake community hit by the harmful algae bloom.”

“Greenwood Lake is a critical water supply for the state. It is not only a source for the Wanaque and Monksville Reservoir systems, but it is a back-up water supply source. Last summer we had a crisis with lakes being closed due to harmful algae blooms. With climate change and stormwater runoff, things will only get worse. Greenwood Lake is finally clean enough to swim in, but now the only thing we can do is go ice fishing if the ice gets thick enough,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Next summer is right around the corner. If we don’t get the money soon we will not have time to deal with the problems for this coming season.”

“I really appreciate the Congressman for coming here and bringing attention to our issues because the HABs were really bad over the summer and bringing statewide attention to this will help not only our community but all lake communities in New Jersey,” said Paul Zarillo, Co-Chairman of the Greenwood Lake Commission.

Gottheimer was joined today by Greenwood Lake Commission Paul Zarrillo, Lake Commissioner Jonathan Brett, Lake Commissioner Eric Pain, Lake Commissioner Eric Hastings, Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce, West Milford Mayor Michele Dale, West Milford Councilman Warren Gross, West Milford Councilwoman Ada Erik, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition Julia Somers, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel, Policy Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Henry Gajda, local officials, and Greenwood Lake area business and marina owners.

Read the letter HERE.

Watch today’s announcement HERE.  

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Last summer, harmful blooms sprouted in lakes all across the state causing tourism to drop and hundreds of thousands in lost revenue for small business owners. In 2019 overall, there were over 70 suspected and 39 confirmed harmful algae blooms in New Jersey -- higher levels than the previous two years.

We are here today because, right now, countless lakes, ponds, reservoirs and rivers all across New Jersey -- including here at Greenwood Lake -- are facing another summer with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), and we need to do everything we can to help combat another environmental crisis. 

Last summer, because of harmful algae blooms, the state was forced to ban swimming, fishing, and close contact with the lake water, to help keep residents and visitors safe, here at the second largest lake in the state, at nearby at Lake Hopatcong, and in lakes up and down New Jersey. The impact on this breath-taking community was devastating – to our families, visitors, and their summer recreation and to the lake businesses, including those we heard from today. The jobs, their livelihoods, the regional economy and hospitality industry. Tens of millions of dollars.

Greenwood Lake isn’t only a popular swimming spot. The beautiful lake supplies water to both the Monksville and Wanaque reservoirs, by way of the Wanaque River. These reservoirs supply drinking water to 3.5 million residents in North Jersey.

What caused these harmful algal blooms last summer? It was the perfect storm of warmer than usual temperatures, both outside and of the lake water, combined with rain and phosphorus run-off from mountains, roadways, driveways, and fertilizers.

This created a toxic algae disaster, with harmful blooms sprouting in lakes all across the state, as we saw last summer. In 2019 overall, there were over 70 suspected and 39 confirmed harmful algae blooms in New Jersey -- and those are higher levels than the previous two years.  Given the impact of climate change, these higher temperatures are likely not a one off occurrence, but now just part of our every day.  We are clearly seeing it in the annual rash of forest fires, higher water elevations, hurricanes and other natural disasters.  2019 capped off the world’s warmest decade in recorded history, and that’s causing an environmental crisis right here in our own backyard.

HABs pose a major health and safety issue. They can contaminate our drinking water and cause a variety of severe illnesses just from skin exposure.

Just like with every environmental emergency, we need to act. It will take a comprehensive strategy, working together – a true local, state, and federal partnership.

First, in November, the Governor, working closely with state, local, and other officials, announced steps to combat these blooms in Jersey’s lakes, authorizing a $13 million investment for communities to fight HABs. To combat Harmful Algae Bloom, our lakes need to be able to prevent new blooms from sprouting, mitigate the current issues, study the causes and possible solutions, and respond accordingly. We have to tackle everything from preventing run-off, improving sewer systems, and more.

This was a critical and welcomed first step – and an important use of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which I was proud to support in the year-end federal government investment package in Congress, along with the new investment in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I’m grateful for that partnership between the state and federal government, which focused on matching funds from federal and state grants, to prevent another summer of toxic algae.

Many of us, including my colleagues Congressman Malinowski and Congresswoman Sherrill, and State Senators Steve Oroho and Pennacchio, Assemblymen Parker Space, Hal Wirths, Freeholder Yardley and Petillo, and the Commissioner were at that November meeting, and it was a good, bipartisan, constructive session.

However, not all the lakes in Jersey, including Greenwood Lake, have the immediate resources to match those funds. To combat an environmental crisis, we can’t just help some, we need to work to help all.

Greenwood Lake, which is shared by New Jersey and New York, only receives about $20,000 dollars from both Passaic and Orange counties each year. Their biggest expenses already include managing everything from stump removal and water monitoring. 

Trying to combat all these issues by themselves has left Greenwood Lake, and others throughout New Jersey, extremely cash strapped. Any lakes that are already lacking enough resources won’t be able to receive funding from the State’s current plan – or may only qualify for part of it.  We need to address that. Along with the commissioner, I’m asking the county and the lake communities to help pitch in additional resources, and I’m hoping the state can find additional ways to help lakes that can’t afford the match.

There are short-term issues that are coming up this summer – and there are long-term ones. We will need to address infrastructure issues on the lake and figure out ways to mitigate the run-off from up in the mountains. Greenwood Lake is like the bottom of a bowl, so it gets hit with everything running down.

Today, to help head off a crisis this summer, along with my colleagues from our Congressional delegation -- Mikie Sherrill, Tom Malinowski, Don Payne, and Andy Kim -- we are asking the state to immediately pass an emergency mid-year appropriations package to bring additional, much-needed investment to address these issues affecting lakes across the state.  This can’t be done one off, lake by lake. It needs to look at every lake community hit by the harmful algae bloom.

Unfortunately, we cannot wait until next summer’s budget negotiations to get this done. It could be too late.

We need to prevent, mitigate, and respond now. Emergency appropriations could provide the investment our lakes need to reduce source pollution, make sewer and stormwater upgrades, and invest in treating the existing toxic blooms.

We need to figure out other ways to provide immediate and additional relief to these lakes, especially for those who don’t have any of the resources necessary to match the state’s current plan.

Second, at the federal level, I have reached out the Regional Administrator of the EPA to boost technical assistance here on the ground. They have and can offer vital assistance and experience in addressing these environmental emergencies.

Third, we will continue working with our municipalities and lake commissions throughout the Fifth Congressional District to ensure we’re clawing back EPA investment opportunities whenever and wherever they are available.

Finally, and building on the steps the Governor already announced, I am calling on the state to continue utilizing funds that they receive from the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund and to distribute resources to lakes all throughout the New Jersey that need assistance.

 If I listed out every lake in Jersey that needs help, we’d be here till it’s warm enough to wear a bathing suit. Just here in the Fifth District: Monksville Reservoir in West Milford, Swartswood Lake in Stillwater Township, the Sussex County Fire Academy Pond in Hampton Township, Canistear Reservoir in Vernon, Mountain Lake in Liberty Township, Shepherd Lake in Ringwood, and Lake Owassa in Frankford Township -- all impacted by toxic algae.

I know that we can come together to put a comprehensive strategy in place to combat this crisis --- one that works for all lakes affected by toxic algae all throughout New Jersey.

We cannot wait. Communities and livelihoods are on the line.

We are one New Jersey, we share one environment, and we must work together – Democrats and Republicans -- to stop this environmental crisis from continuing to wreak havoc on our water, our businesses, and our residents. There is nothing partisan about this.

By coming together to support our environment, our economy, our eco-tourism, and the safety of our families, I know that here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days -- bright summer days on the lake -- will always be ahead of us. We have to tackle this head on.

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