Although Lake Hopatcong’s weeds were not on the agenda for Monday night’s Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting, they came up several times—and the predictions for this summer don’t sound good for those who like to swim, boat, and fish in weed-free areas.
Commissioner Dan McCarthy of Hopatcong said it was challenging to find areas to ice fish, and he had to keep moving farther from the shore to set up his tip-ups. “There were old weeds right up to the surface of the ice,” he said.
“This is really disturbing,” Tim Clancy of Lake Hopatcong said while describing a similar frustration. “Dozens of areas I fished my whole life were unfishable. We’re going to get hit really hard, really fast.”
Dealing with that problem may be more challenging than usual. During open public comment, Barry Marke—a former employee of the Lake Hopatcong Commission who ran the weed harvesters on the lake—warned the commission that the harvesters are completely dismantled, and that even if they get funding for the weed-harvest operation, it will take some time to get them on the water. “Everything is apart and still has to be put back together,” he said. Marke estimated that even if the commission received last-minute funding in June, like last year, the harvesters wouldn’t be up and running until possibly the end of July. “We used up everything we had last year.”
To pay for harvesting, the commission needs money, and the issue of funding didn’t come up until the very end of the meeting, when Clancy asked if a visit from Gov. Chris Christie to the area on March 9 resulted in any updated information about funding sources. Chairman and Jefferson mayor Russ Felter said that Christie responded to a question by saying he was going to look into it, and that Felter had since been in touch with Trenton officials. So far, however, there is no solid funding in place for the commission to continue weed harvesting—or, frankly, basic operations for much longer.
Those operations include logistics for a variety of environmental projects that take place around the lake. Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro, which conducts these projects using grant money, updated the commission on several current efforts. Those projects include a rain garden in Hopatcong State Park, a stormwater project on King Road in Landing, and a stormwater basin on Cherry Street in Lake Hopatcong. The commission is still in limbo regarding a peat biofilter project at a day care in Jefferson Township, and that money will be diverted elsewhere if the project isn’t able to move forward. The commissioners voted to approve the installation of a water treatment device in Crescent Cove, which is expected to be completed by Memorial Day. And Lubnow said Princeton Hydro’s regular water monitoring in the lake would begin in May.
In other discussion, several residents spoke about their concerns regarding the water-level management plan as it currently stands.
Steve Gebeloff of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance said the mandatory 12 cubic feet per second is untenable for the lake to remain full. “The LHA feels there is no legal, historic, scientific, or ecological requirement for this mandatory outflow,” he said, “and in over one year of meetings the D.E.P. has failed to make a compelling argument in its favor.”
Specifically, Gebeloff said that his and the commission's concerns were “dismissed out of hand” at the last Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting for the plan, and that the 12 cfs minimum “was never up for discussion.” He said other changes, including cutting back by half the gained time in a new drawdown schedule and a new document that restricts the conditions for when the 12 cfs could be reduced, were not shared with Lake Hopatcong’s representatives until they were at the meeting.
That document, the Musconetcong River Monitoring Plan, was at the center of some heated discussion during Monday’s meeting. Initially, the plan had called for the state to look into the possibility of reducing the outflow below 12 cfs in times of particularly low water. This new document, which provides more structure to that part of the plan, states that the outflow can only be reduced if there had been less than 7 inches of rain in the previous three months, and if the dissolved oxygen and temperature of six monitoring stations downstream of the dam meet certain criteria. Gebeloff and Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman pointed out that a look at the past data shows that even in some of the worst low-water times, such as in April and June of 2009, those monitoring stations wouldn’t allow for reduced outflow. “If this plan was in effect [in 2009], we would have had no relief,” Gebeloff said. Additionally, the outflow would only be reduced for a maximum of two weeks, which Gebeloff said would only give the lake a half-inch of water level.
Kurzman reiterated his suggestion for the water-level management plan that calls for the state to reduce the outflow at times of more precipitiation, so that there is more to release if and when a drought sets in. “Take advantage of when there is rain and cut back the outflow,” he said. “You don’t need to drain the lake while it’s raining.”
In other news:
- Clancy reminded the public of the Knee Deep Club trout stocking, scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 3 at Dow’s Bait and Rental on Nolan’s Point in Lake Hopatcong. An estimated 2,300 trout of various sizes will be released ahead of the April 9 start to trout fishing season. The public, he said, is invited to participate, and children can even come out on boats to watch the releases up close.
- Cliff Beebe of Lake Hopatcong again expressed his frustration at the existence of the annual drawdown, which he said violates the rights of property owners. He said the issue would go before a court “in time.” “It’s the law, and everybody ignores the law,” he said. “It’s not malarkey… we have rights.”
- Beebe also asked the commission to post its letter to the state regarding the Water-Level Management Plan on its website, LakeHopatcong.org, which Felter said they would be sure to do.