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Our Lakes Are Dying – Ten Years After Critical EPA Audit, DEP Fails to Act

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The Bergen Record ran a story today on the weed problems at Greenwood Lake:

An answer for lake weed woes

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 
BY JAMES M. O’NEILL

An aquatic weed that snags fishing lines, ensnares kayakers’ paddles and jams boat propellers has become the bane of many North Jersey lake users. Eurasian milfoil, a stringy, invasive plant, grows like kudzu in Greenwood Lake, Pompton Lake and many other area lakes.

It’s here big time and it’s a big problem,” said Randall FitzGerald, a Montclair State environmental studies professor. “An alien species like this has no natural predators here, so there are no checks on its spreading.”

Strategies to control it, from herbicides to cutting and dredging, each have drawbacks. Now, researchers are looking at the impact of another device used to attack the plant — the hydrorake, a floating machine that pulls the weeds out of the water.

Unfortunately, the article is another whitewash and ignores major aspects of the problem and solutions. The article focuses on local, voluntary, state grant funded, technical fixes to control the symptoms, not the underlying causes of the disease or the larger statewide management failures.

It ignores major issues, like this USGS study: Water Quality and Occurrence of Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) and Other Fuel-Related Compounds in Lakes and Ground Water at Lakeside Communities in Sussex and Morris Counties, New Jersey, 1998-1999

Let me explain: First off, our lakes are a magnificent public resource that provide tremendous recreational, wildlife, and ecological benefits. Legally, under the federal (and State) Clean Water Act, DEP is responsible for managing the water quality and ecological health of New Jersey’s 1,100+ lakes.

Secondly, all that sediment choking the lake and nutrient pollutant loads fueling explosive plant growth and killing other aquatic life come from overdvelopment in the watershed.

Without addressing these pollutant loads and preventing even more pollution, technical fixes – more herbicides, cutting, dredging – are a rube goldberg operation. It is a waste of taxpayer money to put  a band aid on a gaping wound. We need to fund a tourniquet.

Ten YEARS ago, an EPA Inspector General Audit Report found major deficiencies in DEP Lakes Management Programs, as well as failed EPA oversight of NJDEP’s compliance with Clean Water Act requirements. An entire Chapter of that EPA IG Report was titled “Lakes Need More Attention“. The EPA IG Audit made scathingly negative criticisms of DEP and found: 

New Jersey has inadequate monitoring and assessment of lake conditions in the State. More than two-thirds of the public lakes have not been tested and more than 97

percent of those tested were found to be eutrophic. The limited attention to lakes has occurred for several reasons: (1) the State has concentrated many of its

monitoring and assessment resources on coastal waters and rivers; (2) EPA has provided less funds; and (3) EPA guidance has been less intensive for lakes. As a

result, New Jersey lakes were found to be in poor condition and there was no assurance that lake water quality issues will be adequately addressed.

 

NJDEP needs to develop and implement a plan to assess and report the status and trends of all publicly owned lakes.

 

Region (2) needs to periodically review and monitor the State’s 10-year total maximum daily load schedule to assure that planned actions are

being met and commitments are being achieved.

While the State’s shell fishing and beach monitoring activities improved, other water bodies including lakes and ponds, have suffered. Chapter 4

provides more detail on how the assignment of a lower priority has affected the State’s lakes.

Ten years later, NONE of those EPA and DEP problems have been fully corrected. 

Why is there no accountability for this failure by EPA and NJ DEP?

Polluted, dying lakes are a statewide problem that requires state level solutions. DEP used to have  a lakes management program, but funding cuts eliminated it. To their credit, DEP did partially restore portions of the lakes water quality monitoring program. See this link for details.  

But this small bore water quality monitoring effort is deficient even just in terms on monitoring, and does not even attempt to address larger lake management program needs. 

We need stable funding – boat fees, stormwater fees, development impact fees, septic fees etc could pay for needed statewide science, monitoring, and management programs.

DEP still has lots of big regulatory sticks that they can use to improve conditions under the Clean Water Act, but they refuse to do so and instead rely on ineffective voluntary local solutions (like those presented in the Bergen Record article above). Enforcement of the Clean Water Act and more stringent land use and development restrictions are needed.

People need to light a fire in Trenton about this.

Where are the environmental advocates? Here’s your ammo:

CWA section 101 requires Federal and state governments to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

 

40 CFR part 130.4 requires states to establish monitoring methods and procedures (including biological monitoring) necessary to compile and analyze data on the quality of waters.

 

40 CFR part 130.7(b)(4) requires states to identify the pollutants causing or expected to cause violations of the applicable water quality standards.

 

40 CFR Part 130.7(b)(5) requires each state to actively solicit, assemble and evaluate all existing and readily available water quality related data and information. Potential sources of data and information listed include local, state and Federal agencies, members of the public, and academic institutions.

 

40 CFR Part 130.8(b)(5) indicates that the state’s 305(b) report must include a water quality assessment of all publicly owned lakes, including water quality status and trends.

 

40 CFR 31.40 requires recipients of Federal funds to monitor activities to assure compliance with applicable Federal requirements and that performance goals are being achieved. Grantee monitoring must cover each program, function or activity.

 

In February 1998, EPA issued the “Clean Water Action Plan,” as mandated by Vice President Gore. The Plan requires states to make a “Unified Watershed Assessment” by October 1998. According to Region 2’s Lakes Coordinator, lakes are part of watersheds, and should not be overlooked.

 

If you need an example, here’s the “TMDL Report” documents for Pompton Lake

 

Click on and read the final chapter “Next Steps” –  as you can see, there is no enforceable implementation plan (a plan with funding and teeth) to meet the water quality standards as required under the Clean Water Act and TMDL regulations. 

 

This is totally deficient legally and technically and does not satisfy or comply with State NJDEP regulations (NJAC 7:15-6 et seq.) or  federal TMDL requirements. 

 

EPA warned DEP to fix this 10 YEARS AGO!

 


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