By A.J. Arias
The Greenwood Lake Commission held their monthly meeting on Wed., Jul. 24 at the West Milford Township Town Hall, which was packed with people. It was the Commission’s first meeting following the Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) on the New Jersey side of Greenwood Lake, which was recently reported.
Several local government officials including representatives from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) joined the Greenwood Lake Commission for the meeting.
After several presentations that listed the results of multiple studies done on the lake and the potential harmful effects of cyanobacteria, which are the make-up of a HAB, and the toxins they could potentially emit, the marina owners made their voices heard.
The marina owners voices were loud and in unison over the fact that they were more than disappointed over the hysteria that they believe has been caused by the New Jersey DEP, New Jersey Department of Health, and the Greenwood Lake Commission and their messaging regarding the HAB.
Jersey Paddleboard owner Micki Lees read the headlines of several newspapers yelling out “Shame on you Straus News” in regards to the West Milford Messenger’s headline that stated the lake was “effectively closed.” Several other marina owners stated that the “sensational journalism” has crushed businesses on the lake and could send people out of business.
Lees continued on in her testimony to let the Commission know, which she is a former member of, she has to take on a second job due to the lack of business she’s experienced due to the HAB’s media coverage. Lees called out the Commission and New Jersey Co-Chair Paul Zarrillo to make a statement on their website that the lake is not closed. Zarrillo agreed to make a statement on the Commission’s website.
Long time residents and marina owners said that the lake is the cleanest it’s ever been and several of them made note of their opinion about the lack of danger the cyanobacteria pose.
Dan Sullivan, owner of Small Craft Marina, said that he had consumed a mason jar of the water a week prior to the meeting and that he is yet to feel any of the adverse consequences of the cyanobacteria.
“If the cyanobacteria are so dangerous then where are all the sick people?,” said Sullivan.
The Science of Greenwood Lake’s HAB
The threshold in New Jersey for cyanobacteria is 20,000 cells/mL, which at this amount is when people begin to visually see HABs form. That threshold is what caused the closure of three publicly licensed beaches in New Jersey.
In New York a different methodology is performed, the New York DEC will not close the beach until a visually reported HAB is confirmed near a local beach. At the time of reporting, there have been three confirmed HABs reported on the New York side of the lake.
The reason why these have not caused beach closures is because they are small and localized HABs and are not near areas where people tend to swim, according to the New York DEC.
Several groups presented studies they had performed on Greenwood Lake following the HAB. Dr. Meiyin Wu, Director of Passaic River Institute and biology professor at Montclair State University, performed one of the studies. Wu has been performing studies on Greenwood Lake for four years and will be performing another test this coming fall.
The Commission called in Dr. Wu to perform another study following the HAB; the study was performed along the shorelines of Greenwood Lake in areas that were selected by the Commission. The reasoning for the locations, according to Commissioner John Graham, was to help the Commission in their ongoing search to find the sources of phosphorous that are going into the lake that provide nutrients for cyanobacteria to thrive.
Wu performed data samples at 15 different sites throughout the entire lake. At 14 of those sites on both the New York and New Jersey side she found readings above 20,000 cells/mL. Two of the readings in the New York side were recorded above one million and two million cells/mL.
With that being said she did not find readings of microcystins, one of the harmful toxins omitted by cyanobacteria, on the New York side. In comparison on the New Jersey side where public licensed beaches are still closed the NJ DEP found all eight of the sites they tested had readings above the threshold of three µg with five of the sites being above the maximum level that they can test of five µg.
For those who are allergic to cyanobacteria, the bacteria can cause adverse affects of rashes and flu like symptoms. Consuming water that contains microcystins can cause liver, kidney, and neurological damage even in small quantities if the levels are above the recommended threshold of three µg.
For those who see cyanobacteria in the lake, the New York DEC recommends that they know what it is, avoid it, and then report it. Reports take 24 hours to be posted online when the DEC will provide a notification to the public. The New York DEC provides all notification through their website nysdec.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html.
There is currently legislation pending in the New Jersey State Legislature – Bill A-3804/S-2167, to provide the lake with $500,000 in annual funding, that several legislators said at the meeting would be a huge help in preventing the HAB from ever happening again.
For any additional questions regarding the HAB reach out to the New York DEC.