NEW JERSEY – Marking another milestone in the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) initiative launched by Governor Murphy last fall, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe Tuesday announced an enhanced Harmful Algal Bloom Response Strategy that includes an interactive mapping tool to help lake communities better protect public health and to keep the public informed about blooms occurring across the state.
This information will help local officials, residents and visitors make better choices about suitable recreational activities in water bodies impacted by harmful algal blooms. It complements the color-coded HAB alert index and signage system the DEP recently announced. Comprehensive information on the harmful algal blooms, response strategy, alert index and mapping tool can be found here.
Members of the public may use the interactive mapping tool from their computers to report suspected harmful algal blooms, which the DEP will then investigate. Using this this tool, the public can also view HAB testing data, local alert conditions and other important information about impacted water bodies.
“The Murphy Administration is committed to assisting communities that are at risk of being impacted by harmful algal blooms, including by clearly communicating with the public about the locations and risk of HABs,” McCabe said. “The interactive mapping tool, along with the state’s new health alert index, greatly improve the quality and flow of information to the public that is essential for safeguarding public health, the environment and local economies that depend on recreation and tourism.”
The new Harmful Algal Bloom Response Strategy and interactive mapping program were developed in collaboration with the affected communities to ensure effective use and communication of the science-based program.
“The new multi-tiered approach for HABs developed and issued by the DEP allows municipalities greater flexibility in terms of how to manage public notification and respond with appropriate action in the event of a HABs occurrence,” Hopatcong Borough Mayor Michael Francis said.
“The Watershed Institute applauds the DEP for creating the new interactive mapping tool, and we look forward to using it in our efforts to keep water clean, safe, and healthy,” said Jim Waltman, the Watershed Institute’s Executive Director. “The DEP is taking an important step to raise awareness of the health of our waterways by making information about water pollution more accessible to the public. We hope through this tool, the public can better protect themselves and start to understand the impacts pollution has on all of us.”
“Harmful algal blooms devastated lake communities throughout New Jersey last year, stopping some recreational activity and crippling local economies. We look forward to working with communities around the state and the DEP to continue to address the root cause of HABS, which is unmanaged polluted runoff,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud the DEP for introducing a new interactive mapping tool for lakes across the state, including Lake Hopatcong, where people will be able to actually see where samples are taken and the results and opens new avenues for transparency within the community.”
Using the interactive mapping tool, users can provide the DEP with GPS coordinates as well as pictures of the potential HAB. The DEP will then investigate the report to determine if a bloom is occurring and needs to be monitored. Monitoring results will be posted for each impacted water body as they become available from the lab.
The interactive mapping tool also provides the public with location and monitoring data for each HAB event reported to the DEP. This level of detail was available only for Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake in northern New Jersey last year.
The enhanced Harmful Algal Bloom Response Strategy released today expands on the roles and responsibilities of the three state agencies responsible for the protecting public health from the impacts of HABS – DEP, the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture – particularly regarding public recreational bathing beaches.
It also details how the DEP has enhanced monitoring techniques through use of field pigment meters, continuous-monitoring buoys, aircraft remote-sensing, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellite imagery, to complement traditional water sampling. Improved collection of data will help scientists better target the location and understand the spatial extent of a bloom and will assist in the development and implementation of long-term strategies to address them.
The enhancements and revisions to the response strategy are part of a broader HAB response initiative directed by Governor Murphy in November 2019. The initiative was developed to address the economic, environmental and public health impacts of nearly 40 Harmful Algal Blooms that occurred statewide last year.
This initiative also includes more than $13 million in funding for various local projects to mitigate and reduce the impacts of these blooms. The DEP is working with various local governments, nonprofits and academic institutions to implement projects that can help mitigate and/or prevent blooms.
Working with trained partners enhances the DEP’s capacity to assess water quality conditions and sources that contribute to HABs, and to inform HAB event response, prevention and treatment. To build needed additional surveillance and monitoring capacity, the DEP leads the New Jersey Water Monitoring council with the U.S. Geological Survey and partners with federal, interstate, state, local, utility, academic and nonprofit monitoring organizations.
Using a $240,000 Community Water Monitoring grant, the nonprofit Watershed Institute is also training community water monitoring groups to assist with surveillance and sampling of lakes with suspected HABs.
Last month, the DEP released a HAB alert index (see inset), a tiered public information and signage system that provides strong and clear guidance on suitable recreational activities in impacted water bodies, depending on levels of bacteria and/or cyanotoxins present. When harmful algal blooms occur, color-coded signs will be posted at impacted water bodies to provide the public with current conditions and recommendations on which recreational activities are suitable and those that are not.
The index makes it clear to the public that, in some instances, boating and related activities may still be suitable when lower levels of harmful algal blooms are detected. Signage for each of these tiers has been developed and is available for download from the DEP’s HAB website.
A growing global problem, harmful algal blooms are not caused by true algae but rather by cyanobacteria that in many ways resemble and behave like algae. These cyanobacteria naturally occur in fresh water and can proliferate to unhealthful levels in sunlight and hot weather, forming dense mats resembling pea soup or spilled paint.
Exposure to cyanobacteria cells can cause a range of mild to moderate health effects, including rashes, allergy-like reactions, flu-like symptoms, gastroenteritis, respiratory irritation and eye irritation. Incidental ingestion of water containing the toxins these bacteria can produce, known as cyanotoxins, can result in more serious health effects such as liver toxicity and neurological effects. Children and pets are more vulnerable because they ingest more water in relation to their weight.