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Lake’s Woes Recall “An Enemy of the People”

Press and local businesses blame DEPĀ 

Real economic and pollution problems ignored

In the popular National Public Radio Show “A Prairie Home Companion“, we are treated to the good news from Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,”.
Not exactly the news these days from Lake Hopatcong, NJ.
No, the Hopatcong story is closer to the narrative dynamics of the classic Ibsen play “An Enemy of the People“. That timeless play anticipated the Bush Administration’s war on environmental science and the need for Al Gore to tell his “Inconvenient Truth

(more on the flip)

Ibsen’s play tells the tragic tale of an idealistic scientist, Dr. Stockmann, who discovers that the town’s main source of tourist income, “the baths”, are a poisoned, unhealthy, toxic dump. Trusting in his fellow man (the “compact majority”) and the integrity of the “free and independent press”, science and law, he assumes that he will be seen as a hero for protecting public health. Instead, Dr. Stockmann’s truth is seen as a threat to their economic survival. They all turn on him as a mob and vilify him as “an enemy of the people”.
In one of the most cogent indictments of the collapse of personal and media integrity, Ibsen’s characters, Burgomaster (Dr. Stockmann’s brother and Mayor)) and Hovstad (the editor of the local newspaper), reveal their true motives:
BURGOMASTER: The public doesn’t need new ideas. The public is best served by the good old recognized ideas that they have already…. As an official, you’ve no right to have any individual conviction.
DR. STOCKMANN: The source is poisoned, man! Are you mad? We live by trafficking in filth and garbage. The whole of our developing social life is rooted in a lie!
HOVSTAD: You’re right there; but an editor can’t always do as he likes. He often has to yield to public opinion on small matters. After all, politics is the chief thing in life — at any rate for a newspaper; and if I want the people to follow me along the path of emancipation and progress, I mustn’t scare them away. If they find such a moral story down in the cellar, they’re much more willing to stand what is printed above it — they feel themselves safer.
The play ends with Dr. Stockman’s painful lament:
DR. STOCKMANN:Should I let myself be beaten off the field by public opinion, and the compact majority, and such deviltry? No, thanks. Besides, what I want is so simple, so clear and straightforward. I only want to drive into the heads of these curs that the Liberals are the worst foes of free men; that party-programmes wring the necks of all young living truths; that considerations of expediency turn morality and righteousness upside down, until life is simply hideous…. I don’t see any man free and brave enough to dare the Truth…. The strongest man is he who stands most alone
(for a wonderful review that does this brilliant play justice, see:


In the case of Lake Hopatcong, “the baths” – the local economic engine – are fueled by recreational boating, marina’s, restaurants, and related support businesses, like bait and tackle shops. Real estate values reflect the local economic conditions.

Gas prices are down somewhat from last year, but still almost $4 per gallon


Boats are luxuries, which are the first things to go in an economic recession as disposable income gets tight. Making matters far worse are the collapse of the housing market. Inflated home values provided paper equity for many moderate income folks to purchase otherwise unaffordable boats. On top of struggling to meet mortgage payments, high gas prices make matters worse.

Marina and store are vacant at the start of the summer season.


Things have gotten so bad economically, that boat owners are abandoning their boats, causing significant disposal problems in waterways across the country. See:
Economy has boat owners abandoning ship
When recreation, or vocation, becomes too expensive they let them sink

News is uniformly bad nationally. Here’s just a sample:
Economy, fuel costs have many in area’s sport boat industry foundering

Glut of boats for sale


Miami International Boat Show, recession ruminations

Boating Industry Slump Could Signal Recession


Sinking boat sales: All sectors of the marine industry feeling the pain
Gas prices, consumer confidence, economic downturn slow sales


Boats take a hit during the recession

From builders to marinas, R.I.’s boating industry is in the doldrums

To get a a sense of how the economic recession is hitting NJ’s recreational boaters, I called the NJ Division of Motor vehicles to get data on trends in recreational boat registrations. According to NJ DMV data, boat registrations are down about 15%, from a 1999 high of 204,277 to 173,411 this year. Even boat dealers are taking radical steps to deal with the huge inventory of unsold boats.
See: Yamaha says it will defer dealer interest payments http://tinyurl.com/ofkqfw


Of course, the economic recession, high unemployment, high gas prices and plummeting boat sales are made far worse by the housing crisis – even local real estate offices are abandoned.


But you wouldn’t know any of that by reading local media reports of the situation in Lake Hopatcong, NJ.

Lakefront house for sale


No, according to NJ media who have ignored all this bad news, the sharp reduction in the number of boats at marinas and related economic problems are blamed on the State Department of Environmental Protection for allowing lake water levels to fall. See: State looks to balance interests at lake – DEP forming panel to review management of Hopatcong
In addition to the above inconvenient economic truths, there are several land use and water quality truths about Lake Hopatcong that are being ignored. These environmental and water quality issues directly and significantly impact the health of lake swimmers, boaters, and fishermen. Even the lake’s water level issue is distorted and poorly reported.


The Lake’s water levels are impacted by rainfall as well as groundwater inputs. Because the lake has a relatively small drainage area (“lakeshed”), groundwater inputs become more significant. To supply the huge development that surrounds the lake, groundwater that feeds the lake is being depleted. About 2 million gallons per day is diverted from the lake via a regional sewer system. Water is pumped from the ground by local water supply wells, then flushed down the toilet and discharged downstream and lost to the lake. The USGS is conducting a study of this hydrology issue.


Land use directly impacts water quality. More than 90% of the lake shore is developed. Stormwater runoff (non-point source pollution) from high density residential development and septic systems is literally killing the lake. Read about the water quality problems, or look at pictures below that illustrate these problems:
Lake Hopatcong is “impaired” and does not meet water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria and phosphorous. See:

The DEP’s has warned of CRITICAL PROBLEMS. According to NJ DEP:

“Lake Hopatcong is a 2,406-acre public lake located on the border of Morris and Sussex counties…. The lakeshed is 6.7 times the area of the lakes, making it fairly small relative to the size of the lake. … About 50% of the flow into the lake is provided through headwater tributaries of the Musconetcong River, while groudwater inflow comprises about 25% of the flow.
About 90% of the land adjacent to the 40-mile lake shore is developed, with the majority in seasonal and year-round low, medium, and high density residential land uses. … .. several of its beaches are impaired for fecal coliform, and nonpoint source pollution into the lake has become a critical problem.” See:

excessive nutrient pollution from over-development causes explosion of plants and algae (eutrophication).
This vegetation is a nuisance to boaters and swimmers, and depletes oxygen levels and kills aquatic life.
Rainfall hits parking lots and polluted run off discharges to the Lake.


Where is all the press coverage and local outcry over this?

  1. dionc9
    May 27th, 2009 at 11:46 | #1

    NJ needs a visit from Guy Noir to look into all this. You’d think NJ would have better environmental standards since Lisa Jackson came out of the Garden State.

  2. lkhopatcong
    May 27th, 2009 at 12:30 | #2

    This is a ridiculous diatribe. After wading through the irrelevant inuendoes, it just seems that you want to paint the picture you want to paint, regardless of the facts.
    The reason for the high weed and the low water and the lack of boating is simple – the DEP pissed away 1.4 billion gallons they weren’t supposed to this winter, and Mother Nature didn’t cover up their mistake with alot of rainfall this spring. Just go to http://www.savelakehopatcong.com and you can see the actual facts.
    I am glad to see that you noticed though, that sewers are indeed flushing away even more water from the area, but that is not the major issue right now. If the lake had the 1.4billion gallons that were erroneously dumped by the DEP between December 15-January 8th (just go to the USGS outflow gauge on the internet, sited at savelakehopatcong.com and see for yourself), that would have the gallonage that matches when the lake is almost at the top of the dam. That’s all there is to it.
    This is not about the economy hurting the lake, it is about the DEP and subsequently the low level of the lake hurting the economy. I for one would be employed right now solely if not for the low lake level.
    Even sailboats can’t be used in most typical areas right now, since the lake is 3′ deep instead of 5′ deep and the ocassional rocks are horrendous. And because the DEP cancelled funding for the cleanup this winter that much of the drawdown supposedly was for (before their 1.4billion gallon mistake), and cancelled funding for the harvesting operation that removes biomass from the lake, and helps keep the lake oxygen from being consumed, many part of the lake are unnavigable by jetskis and even typical boats. And note that even if some boats can operate, they can’t be ‘docked’, since most shoreline slips are too shallow to be reached.
    So nice try at confusing cause and effect. Notice that the weeds and lack of boating is because of the lake level. Remember also that Lake Hopatcong is certified as “Trout Maintenance”, as is the stream below it, but only when it gets to the Musconetcong River, at Lake Musconetcong, does the ranking get lowered to “Non-Trout” (unable to support Trout life). So stop just trying to make Lake Hopatcong appear to be the problem about water quality.
    And as I noted to your earlier article, the fecal coliform issue spikes after rainfall, even after dry periods. That shows that the issue is related to ground pollution, such as ducks/geese poop, maybe dogs and other animals, and NOT septic systems. But being the nature lovers that we are, the ducks and geese are still very prevalent, but unfortunately hurts the coliform readings after storms. So stop maniupulating that data too. You don’t want septics, you say the sewers pump the water away, I suppose you just want everyone to leave, and then blame the economy for that too, when most of the lake’s problems come down to something very simple –
    That the state didn’t close the dam to 12cfs when the Level management Plan said they were supposed to, and let out an extra 1.4 Billion Gallons (about 20 inches of level), and then, when notified of their error in March, and could have taken corrective action of cutting outflow to the stream, especially in consideration of Lake Musconetcong overflowing (and supplying downstream plenty of water), the state decided that .7 miles of stream was more important than all of lake hopatcong, causing many of the scenarios you show in the pictures above.
    Thank you for your support.

  3. lkhopatcong
    May 27th, 2009 at 12:42 | #3

    Oh, and look at your pictures at the bottom carefully. You note that they are about pollution, but notice that the ramps end BEFORE the lake water reaches them! That is why we are indicating that the lake is too low for boats. The boats have to be able to be launched and docked. Your pictures also show the dirt where water should be.
    You even show a restaurant that obviously can’t support the boaters because its slips are too low. And a gas pump that can’t be reached either.
    Taking pictures like that, and then blaming the economy, makes no sense at all, when the economic issues at Lake Hopatcong right now are BECAUSE of the scenes depicted in those pictures.
    I actually do believe that the lake level is due to the economy: The state did open bidding for seawall construction in Roxbury, and required bidders knew that the lake level would rise starting December 15th. But after the bid was awarded, the construction method and materials were changed by the state, and lo and behold, ‘their contractor’ didn’t have to deal with rising waters, because the state decided to delay the refill. No coffer dams necessary, no pumping necessary. Nice, if you’re the contractor.
    The state even FOUGHT the Lake Hopatcong Commission, with the state wanting to delay the refill by two weeks, the LHC wanting the Water Level Management plan followed, and finally settling on one week. (at which time the DEP opened the dam triply, dumping 150cfs instead of the 50cfs they were dumping, and the 12cfs they were supposed to be dumping. And then went to 55cfs instead of 12cfs the next few weeks, causing the total 20 inches/1.4Billion gallon deviation). You think the state fought the official voice of the lake to help a few unnamed homeowners? The lake level problems are indeed due to economic decisions. Someone got ‘helped’, and the whole lake economy sufferered. In 1988, same thing, the state admitted they left the dam open for their contract at the Marine Police seawall. The low lake level was caused by economic decisions that were very shortsighted, but the economy is not causing the boating and swimming and dead fish problem, the low lake level is, 100% because of past DEP decisions or deliberate lack of decisions.

  4. nohesitation
    May 27th, 2009 at 12:45 | #4

    Dear dionc9:
    Love it!
    Yes, maybe Mr. Keillor can do a show and report from Lake Hopatcong (or Lake Pompton!) – lovely contrast with lake Wobgon.
    Dear lkhopatcong –
    glad to see you’ve finally put your cards on the table with this comment:
    “I for one would be employed right now solely if not for the low lake level.”
    But did you read any of the links I provided about the economics of boating and marina’s? Have you read Ibsen?.
    Are you folks out in Hopatcong immune from this economic downturn?

  5. lkhopatcong
    May 27th, 2009 at 17:17 | #5

    I think the comment “Are you folks out in Hopatcong immune from this economic downturn?” cuts to the heart of the concerns that you and some others have about Lake Hopatcong.
    Its not environmental concern for the .7 miles of stream potentially effected by a dam closure, its not the rainbows or the bait store, or the other pictures you provided of places far from Lake Hopatcong that are below the overflowing Lake Musconetcong (and not effected by Lake Hopatcong trying to be rescued).
    Its that you seem to mind that Lake Hopatcong isn’t suffering enough. That not having water reach the boat ramps (right in your pictures!) isn’t the problem, but its the economy. Sure the economy is causing pressure, but that’s all the more reason that the DEP should be making sure that people could spend money at the lake, not the opposite.
    Don’t you realize that if people cut more spending, more people lose jobs, more companies lose money, more people lose jobs, more companies lose money, stocks go down and people have less money to spend, companies default, more people have money to spend? you should not be upset that there still might be some people around who would be spending money at Lake Hopatcong, spending helps the area and the economy, lets people get their jobs back, lets those people spend money, maybe some of them would even be buying fishing supplies at the store in your picture downstream.
    If you’re upset about the economy, you should really wonder why the DEP is sacrificing the whole lake, using ridiculous statistics like how long the lake would take to fill if no rainfall for the next two years (during a month that rained 4 inches and raised the lake 1′ as it should), and is hurting the whole economy.
    Your pictures in this posting say it all. The economy is hurting, the water level is down to the normal top of the weeds, so now we don’t have the 1-2′ buffer of water above them, fish are dying from lack of oxygen in the dense weed beds, people are losing their jobs and maybe their homes (I guess that’s why you posted those pictures), etc.
    Doesn’t it make you angry that the State would rather forego all the benefits to humans, help the environment at Lake HOpatcong, etc, but instead chooses to save 7/10th of one mile of stream that wouldn’t even exist if not for the dam in the first place?
    And that the water coming out of Lake hopatcong is hotter than the water joining the stream in 7/10ths of a mile (halfway to Lake Musconetcong), potentially hurting rather than helping the fish in that 2nd 7/10ths of a mile? The DEP is CAUSING an environmental issue in the lake as you’ve shown as well.
    And by the way, rumor has it that the state opened the dam yesterday (from 12:45-3:45PM according to the level gauge), dropped the lake and let out about 30 million gallons over 3 hours, supposedly to flush some debris into the stream. That’s a whole month worth of the difference of 3mgd and 4mgd that we’ve been arguing about with the DEP!! But of course, it again only hurt the lake, and didn’t really help the stream to just flood it in one burst like that, in fact it might have caused some fish to become trapped and then be in your next set of pictures, as you blame lake Hopatcong again for what actually is 100% DEP actions.

  6. lkhopatcong
    May 27th, 2009 at 18:01 | #6

    Just to correct my last post, I meant to write
    “Don’t you realize that if people cut more spending, more people lose jobs, more companies lose money, more people lose jobs, more companies lose money, stocks go down and people have less money to spend, companies default, LESS people have money to spend? ”
    As for your likening the Lake Hopatcong economy to being like an economy based on poison, thank you for showing how far out there you are.
    I think your pictures are accurate, but are a reflection of the low lake levels, and are not like the pictures from prior years when the lake was at appropriate levels and had funding to address removal of the weeds that come from the 100 year supply of naturally occurring phosphorous that is in the lake bottom. (as well as some small areas that may have malfunctioning septics, much geese excrement, etc).
    If you want to read about economics regarding trout though, and how DEP concern about fish is about selling fishing licenses, just go to http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/2005/trout_proposal.pdf
    The people suffering at Lake Hopatcong are not just about the economy, there are swim teams that can’t participate in the lake, kids whose recreation for the whole summer centered on the lake, people who enjoyed relaxing on a raft without the stench of dead fish floating around them, people who would sail if not for rudders tangling in the weeds or hitting bottom, people who want to get in boats and go from one fishing spot to another to see how many fish they can catch (the DEP likes that!), people who would like to waterski but would possibly die or be crippled when they land in 3′ depth of water, boats that would hit rocks that are 1-2′ closer to the surface than normal, etc.
    And of course, nature at Lake Hopatcong is suffering as well. The Bird Sanctuary is a mud flat; fish are dying in weed beds that don’t even have water above them since the water is 1-2′ low; mussel shells are cracking in the dirt; new species of weeds are growing in the dirt where water used to be; biomass not being removed; etc.
    That is not because the people who use lake hopatcong are poisoning the lake, it is all because of the DEP actions this winter, lack of action this spring, and mother nature not jumping in to make up for their 20″ deviation from the plan.

  7. scousenj7
    May 28th, 2009 at 10:59 | #7

    Dear Mr Wolfe. Your pictures do indeed confirml Lk Hopatcong concerns. Look how low the water is compared to the dock height. The docks you show are at a local restaurant very few people would be willing or are able to climb from thier boats onto this dock and risk injury. The dead fish are because the water is so low the weeds have grown quicker and stronger this year thanks to water mismanagement. The lake could be a trophy fishing lake if cleaned up. Yes the economy will have an effect on the number of boats in this year but combine that with this enviromental disaster and it is a double whammy. You obviously care abot the enviroment so why can we not protect both the musconetcong and the lake. This is a state lake for the use of all residents. We all pay taxes is it not too much to ask that the state uses some of that money to protect a valuable resource. If that means passing stricter polution rules, limiting boat and engine sizes so be it. Please stop trying to kill the lake and community and help us protect it and the musconetcong equally.

  8. scousenj7
    May 28th, 2009 at 11:11 | #8

    Dear Mr Wolfe, Your images do indeed support Lk Hopatcong’s concerns. Notice the water level at the docks. The picture is of docks at a locl restaurant. Many people will not or are not able to climb from a boat at these low levels to do so could risk injury. The dead fish are due to the weeds growing faster and stronger this year. This is a direct result of water mismanagement by the state. Yes the economic downturn will result in fewer boats being in but couple that with the impending enviromental disater you have a double whammy. I pay taxes you pay taxes so why can the state not manage both the lake and river. The lake is their for all people to enjoy not just local residents. If the state needs to pass stricter polution laws and limit the size of boats and engines to clean the lake up so be it. This lake cleaned up could be a trophy fishing lake. What do you have against the lake. If you care about the enviroment you will stop attacking the lake and help us protect both waterways so we can all enjoy.

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