Lake’s Woes Recall “An Enemy of the People”
Press and local businesses blame DEP – 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
Where is all the press coverage and local outcry over this?