Monday, September 21, 2015, 7 p.m.
Jefferson Township Municipal Building, Lake Hopatcong
A summary of key items discussed by the Lake Hopatcong Commission at its monthly meeting:
- In what was a four-hour meeting, the primary focus was a discussion of the water level on Lake Hopatcong, which remained more than 15 inches below the dam at the time of the meeting, and has not reached the dam crest in 2015. Four DEP officials were brought to the LHC to explain to a crowd of more than 80 residents and boaters exactly how the current Water Level Management Plan was created and why its numbers (such as the mandatory outflow of 12 cubic meters per second) are set where they are. In a slide presentation with dozens of graphs, officials from different divisions of the DEP, including the divisions of Water Supply, Fish and Wildlife, and Parks and Forestry, spoke to the standing-room-only crowd. They cited, for example, the conflicting mandates of a legislative code to keep the lake full at all times and a 1922 court mandate for outflow. They explained that under normal conditions during the summer, the lake receives 4 inches of rainfall, loses 4.5 inches to evaporation, receives 4 inches of runoff, and loses 3.6 inches downstream. This year, rainfall has been 27 to 36.5% below average, though because the governor has not yet declared a drought, the area is not officially in drought stage. Lisa Barno of the Division of Fish and Wildlife explained how the dam management is linked to Federal Clean Water Act standards for the “Trout Maintenance” classification downstream in the Musconetcong River, including maintaining low water temperatures and higher dissolved oxygen levels. (The presentation will be available on the Hopatcong State Park website soon.)
The DEP representatives were challenged by several residents and boaters on their reasoning behind the outflow, and the critical comments often received applause from those in the crowd. “It seems we are saving trout at all cost,” Lake Hopatcong resident Lisa Kurzman said. “In a naturally occurring situation, [the stream] would have had less water.”
A boater from West Orange said he recently pulled his boat from Lake Hopatcong because of how low the water is. “Whatever you [lakefront homeowners] spend on taxes is as much as I spend on the lake in gasoline and spending money at local businesses,” he said. “I just moved my boat from the lake to Jersey City. I’m lucky in that I can afford it, but you are losing [that money] here.”
Later in the meeting, Beth Styler Barry, executive director of the Musconetcong River Watershed Association, said that the blame for the low water lies not with the outflow, but with Mother Nature, explaining that “downstream ecosystems and boaters and anglers are suffering this year because of the lack of rain. It’s not solely the trout that are suffering, there are thousands of people downstream.”
- Commissioner Kerry Kirk Pflugh, who represents the DEP on the LHC, explained that the outflow is required by law, but that the state has no environmental reason to continue drawdowns; rather, they are in place to protect the properties of lakefront homeowners from ice damage. “Frankly, we don’t want them, but the lake community does,” she said. That stance was later challenged by Mt. Arlington resident William Doran, who said he thought the state had reason to be concerned about liability from such damage if the drawdown did not take place. “For over 80 years… people have built their bulkheads knowing they’d have a 30-inch (and later 26-inch) drawdown and that every five years they’d get a 5-foot drawdown to make repairs,” he said. “I suggest we not make arbitrary changes… all we know is 26 inches has worked…. This year happens to be an exception.” Pflugh said Doran’s point was well taken, “which is why the department can’t unilaterally make the change.” She suggested residents ask their towns to come together with a compromise plan for drawdowns and bring it to the LHC and DEP for review. Ray Fernandez of Bridge Marina said he thought it was the DEP’s job to take a leadership role and get feedback from residents and the towns to make adjustments to the drawdown plan. “I hope the DEP could get in the driver’s seat and make some changes.”
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum, who has repeatedly presented a compromise plan that would reduce the annual drawdown from 26 inches to 16 inches and change the timing to start the refill earlier, pointed out that people’s opinions depend on where they live on the lake. “We’re all here for the same reason, but we’re all at odds with each other,” he said, asking that commissioners and the community rally behind a compromise.
- Steve Ellis and Dan Bello of the State Park Service gave an update on the weed harvest. Through September 18, the harvest had removed about 2,500 cubic yards of weeds from the lake. They credited the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and Jefferson Township with providing funds that allowed them to extend the harvest six weeks, through October 2. Ellis also said that he was moving another park employee to the harvest so for the first time all summer, all four harvesters will be running the final two weeks of the harvest season. Ellis and Bello gave a lot of credit to the weed harvest staff, saying, “These employees are extremely passionate about this lake.” Commissioner Dan McCarthy told them that the very shallow areas of the lake are choked with weeds that can only be removed by the small weed harvester that is sitting in storage, and suggested swapping a large harvester out for a small one next summer.
- Dr. Fred Lubnow of Princeton Hydro updated the commission on the planning stages to install stormwater devices in Jefferson Township. He also said that their efforts to conduct a three-week bathymetric study were halted by the excessive weed growth after one week, and will resume later in the fall if conditions improve. He and Ellis both talked about the importance of the harvester schedule working in concert with those who hire out chemical treatments, and Ellis said next year the State Park will make more of an effort to review chemical treatment permits and time the harvest in those areas accordingly.
- Monday was Russ Felter’s final meeting as chairman; throughout the meeting, residents, officials, and fellow commissioners shared their appreciation for his more than five years’ service as chairman (and longer as commissioner). Pflugh presented a plaque from the DEP, thanking Felter for his “leadership over the very challenging last five years.” Felter gave a final chairman’s report to close out the meeting. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor to serve,” he said. “It’s time to start working as a group to come together. There are a lot of splits in the community… but unless we start working together, we’re not going to get anywhere.” He thanked Pflugh, calling her an advocate for the lake, and thanked the rest of the commissioners for stepping up, as well as the residents who come to the meetings. “It’s OK to have your personal agenda, but you have to understand that other people have agendas, too,” he said. “And if we don’t have discussions with each other, we’re going nowhere.”
The next meeting of the Lake Hopatcong Commission is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, October 19 at the Mt. Arlington Municipal Building (419 Howard Boulevard, Mt. Arlington).