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Toxic Algae Blooms Are Evidence of Failure of DEP Planning and Regulation

NJ Spotlight once again puts lipstick on a pig

DEP minimizing the scope of the problem & abdicating regulatory responsibility

Right now, I’m up in wonderful “green” Vermont. I spent the last 2 nights in Breadloaf Wilderness.

I’m here because I left Burlington in disgust after learning that Lake Champlain has a toxic algae bloom – they call it a cyanobacteria bloom here, but the politically framed excuses in Vermont were the same as those in NJ: i.e. after being warned NOT to allow my dog to swim, I asked an official what was going on. I was told that record low lake levels and warm water were the problem (thus implying a “natural” uncontrollable cause and omitting the man made causes of excessive nutrient loads from over-development, lax regulation, and catastrophic climate warming).

With that bad taste still in my mouth, I opened my email this morning to find another misleading NJ Spotlight story about NJ’s HAB problem.

According to NJ Spotlight, the story was based on a DEP  “online news conference on the status of the problem”.

Why does the press always react to the DEP spin?

Why not just do some real investigative journalism, report the facts, and examine the actual effectiveness of DEP programs and regulations that are designed to prevent the problem?

After reading the DEP’s promotion of “green infrastructure” (a slogan from their flawed stormwater regulations), this DEP spin really set me off:

Last summer, more than 30 lakes were affected by the blooms, and the number is about the same so far this year, DEP officials said.

There are 16 confirmed blooms so far this year, slightly more than the 12 that were confirmed by the same point of 2019.

I have written several times, emailed NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle multiple times, and have been trying to get the word out that DEP rolled back last year’s warning & lake closure threshold of 20,000 cells/ml to 80,000 this year.

Once again, Spotlight failed to report that.

But, by reporting DEP’s comparison of last year’s data to this year, Spotlight has gone even further and actively misled readers.

It is not valid to compare last year’s HAB episodes with this year’s episodes because DEP changed the threshold!

On top of that, once again, NJ Spotlight gave DEP a pass on massive planning and regulatory failures – serious failures that should be the focus of a critical story and not some after the fact response by Jeff Tittel to DEP’s spin.

I fired off this email to Mr. Hurdle:

Jon – it is not valid to compare and report the number of lakes this year with last year, because DEP changed the thresholds!

When will you report that critical fact?

Because the threshold is much higher (80,000 cells/ml this year compared to 20,000 cells/ml last year), the actual number of lakes impacted and the risks to public health (and pets) is MUCH BIGGER AND BRODER THAN DEP IS REPORTING.

Again, if DEP ever raised the ground level ozone standards and the number of bad air days were reported as the same as last year, that would not pass the straight face test and would be widely denounced.

Similarly, the DEP has adopted very weak and totally ineffective “Total Maximum Daily Loads” (TMDLs) for lake nutrients. Those TMDLs are the legal and regulatory mechanism (science based and quantitative and thus enforceable) under the Clean Water Act to address this problem.

Worse, DEP has actually rolled back specific regulations that were designed to prevent and reduce nutrient loads, including Highlands, Category One buffers, WQMP (septic maintenance), stormwater management, wetlands, and stream encroachment.

There are also huge gaps in current DEP regulations regarding land use, septics, non-point pollution, water quality standards for nutrients, and climate change (hydrology).



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