Two years after a controversial low-water start to the summer season, and one year after a committee began drafting a new water-level management plan for Lake Hopatcong, the Lake Hopatcong Commission on Tuesday is expected to voice its opinion on whether or not to send the plan back to Trenton with its nod of approval.
The plan (available to read here), which has been crafted by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and a committee of stakeholders from around the lake and downstream, was the center of attention on Jan. 31, when the commission held a special meeting to allow residents to share their thoughts and ask any questions. More than two dozen speakers came to the podium, most of them to voice their disapproval with the plan. The critics generally fell into two camps: Lake Hopatcong residents who were concerned that the minimum outflow of 12 cubic feet per second from the dam would allow too much water to escape the lake, and downstream residents who were concerned about a provision that would allow the discussion of allowing less than 12 cfs in the event of particularly low water levels.
John Kurzman of Lake Hopatcong has maintained that, based on a study of lake data, 12 cfs has not been the minimum outflow in the past, and that it would result in a net loss for the lake every year. In an open letter to the commission after the meeting, he wrote, “Because the LHC is the representative that supposedly watchdogs the lake’s interests (solely, not the watchdog for the river, but by statute is the watchdog for the lake), if the LHC endorses the plan as is, it sends a message that 12 cfs is OK with the LHC … that should not be the message that you send. Doing so will endorse a major change to the lake’s health, and will be contrary to your duty of representing the lake on the Lake Hopatcong Commission.” (Kurzman’s full thoughts and data sets on the subject are available here.)
Several lake residents echoed Kurzman’s stance that Lake Hopatcong would lose too much water if the plan were to play out, and voiced concerns about their ability to access the lake, the safety of navigating boats and fighting lakeside fires in times of low water, and any effects on the lake ecosystem.
The Knee Deep Club of Lake Hopatcong, which endorsed the plan as it stands, disputed the notion that the 12 cfs release would be harmful for the lake environment. “We believe there is no significant issue,” said Leslie Aughey, the club’s president, at the Jan. 31 meeting. “It has no great impact on water quality, as you may have been lead to believe…. People wanted a definite water-level management plan, and here we are, a year in the making, and we finally have one. There were many groups around the lake involved in putting it together, we have read it, and believe it to be a good plan.” (Aughey’s full statement is available here.)
Beth Styler Barry, executive director of the Musconetcong Watershed Association, said the insertion of the paragraph that allowed a possible reduction from the 12 cfs minimum “leaves this to an uncertain future and, for us downstream, a dangerous foot in the door.”
Her concern was also shared by other speakers, who said they worried about the downstream environment—in particular, the ability of the waterway that connects Lake Hopatcong and Lake Musconetcong (and its fish) to survive if less than 12 cfs is sent through the dam.
Russ Felter, chairman of the commission and Jefferson Township mayor, asked the commissioners to review all of the comments and come to the next regular meeting—to be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow (February 22) at the Mt. Arlington Borough Hall—prepared to have a final discussion on whether to send the commission’s endorsement to Trenton.
Full coverage of that meeting will be available on LakeHopatcongNews.com on Wednesday. (For coverage of the Jan. 31 meeting, click here.)