Club Launches New Campaign You're probably aware of the chronic weed problem here at the lake this year. If you didn't notice it while fishing this season you might have read about it in the newspapers or even saw it on TV. The parts of the lake that usually have heavy weeds were much worse this year and the area from Bertrand Is. all the way into Landing was nearly unnavigable. During an inspection of the weed problem in that part of the lake with Club President Lou Marcucci, my boat stalled out several times because the weeds were so thick and matted.
By: Tim Clancy
After that I attended the Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board (LHRPB) meeting that many lake front residents attended to complain about the weed problem. As a result of discussions at that meeting I recommended to the Officers and Trustees of the club that we reactivate the Conservation Committee and try to find a long term solution to the problem. The committee decided to use the club's resources to try to unite the entire lake community in an effort to secure permanent and consistent funding to help manage the lake. The result is the SAVE THE LAKE: 2000 campaign that we will discuss at greater length later in this article.
The immediate problem of the weeds this year is the result of several events converging at the same time and an analysis of them shows the real problems that confront Lake Hopatcong today. But, hopefully an understanding of these problems can lead us to some long term solutions.
First we have the ongoing environmental problems at the lake. The real culprit is lake eutrophication, which simply means lake aging. It is a natural process where the shallow parts of the lake begin to get swamp like, eventually fill in more and finally become meadows. In 10,000 years people living in Landing are more likely to own a golf cart than a motor boat. The problem here at Hopatcong is that this process has been greatly accelerated from improper use of the resource. The problems are many. Poor building and development practices, lack of sewers, inadequate storm water management, the use of fertilizers and other household chemicals, etc. Science and technology have come a long way and there are solutions to these problems. Not only can we slow down the aging process it is even possible to reverse it, but it all takes money.
The second element of this year's problem is the climate. This has been the warmest, driest year ever. It has resulted in low water levels, warmer water, low flow and excessive weed growth. The environmental problems have simply been magnified because of the weather. You know what they say about the weather. Everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it. That's because there is not much that we can do but endure it. Hopefully, though, our experience this year will be enough to motivate people, not just club members but everyone who enjoys and cares about this lake. We had a look into the lake's future this year and it wasn't pretty.
The third element of the problem is that this year there were big problems with the weed harvesters at the lake. In a nutshell, the LHRPB had applied for and was given a grant to run and maintain the weed harvesting equipment. As is common with grant money it got lost in some bureaucratic shuffle and had still not reached the lake as of late July! That is nearly two years since the grant was awarded. As a result the harvesters could not receive the $50,000 worth of repairs needed in time to save this season. Had they been up and running we may not have even noticed a weed problem this year.
This scenario represents the main problem at the lake and an under-standing of it hopefully will lead us to a real and long term solution. The problem is basically twofold. First and foremost is the problem of inadequate and inconsistent funding. Then there is also the problem of the lake's overall management. We as anglers view this lake as one large continuous resource. Unfortunately though there are many geographic boundaries and layers of bureaucracy that make the management of the lake nearly impossible. There are four towns, two counties and at least twelve different state agencies that all dabble in the lake's management. There is also the LHRPB, and I don't think the public fully understands their function. This is strictly an advisory board that receives very nominal funding from the four towns around the lake and any additional funding they need is secured through grants. These are citizen volunteers who take time away from their families and livelihoods to help improve the lake. They are not much different than the Officers and Trustees of the Knee Deep Club and really don't have any more authority than us. They can't introduce or enforce any regulations, they can only make recommendations. As far as grant money, it's no way to run a business. The club no longer even applies for grants because it's so futile. I've dealt with the LHRPB for years and I think they do a very admirable job. However this lake needs much more. We need a similar organization that is staffed fulltime with equipment and facilities, that can institute and enforce regulations. Obviously this is going to take money and lots of it. There in lies the problem. Where does the funding come from?
The first place we should look is at the money this lake generates already. This lake is a thriving business. Around 200,000 people visit the state park alone every year. How many others come to enjoy the lake, to boat, fish, sail, swim, jet ski or even eat at the restaurants? How many tens of millions of dollars do they spend. How much money is generated through sales tax, gasoline tax, boat registrations and my personal pet peeve; motor boat operator's licenses? Only freshwater boaters are required to pay this fee, there is no test or safety course required it's just another example of the lake generating revenue that is never brought back to the lake to help solve its problems. All of that money should go into a freshwater fund and be distributed to the lakes that generate it. Sometimes I think Trenton believes that since we live on a mountain that the money can only flow downhill and can never make its way back up here. God knows there's always plenty of money for the shore communities.
I think a comprehensive economic impact study of the lake and the revenue that it generates for the State Treasury is long overdue and will help in our efforts to lobby the state for funding. We also need to determine the actual cost of running a lake commission or agency. The initial capital outlay for land, facilities and equipment. The yearly overhead for staffing. A staff that should include an administrator, office staff, field personnel and even a biologist. Down the road we may be able to get money turned over from other agencies. Do we really need the Navigation Bureau, that is based in Forked River NJ, to place our navigational markers here? Couldn't we do it better and cheaper locally? If we had the money budgeted for the State Marine Police at Lake Hopatcong could we get more effective coverage at a lesser cost if it was
managed locally? All of these things should be looked at as possible funding sources. Another part of the solution might include the possible implementation of a user fee. Lake George, N.Y. confronted this problem in 1961. You can not put a boat on Lake George without paying a fee and getting a decal. They have daily, weekly and season decals. This might be a good model to look at. We might even want to look at a land use generated fees. But whatever money is raised at the lake through user fees will stay at the lake in dedicated funds and not be spent elsewhere. Let's not get lost in the details or the mechanics at this point, let's just all agree that there is a problem and work towards the solution.
You might be asking why is this the Knee Deep Club's job? Part of our mission is to protect and preserve the lake's natural resources and anything we can do to improve water quality will ultimately have a positive impact on the lake's fishery. Also we are the largest and most organized group at the lake and we have a monthly newsletter that goes out to over 1,000 members. We have good contacts in both the media and state government and we have a web page that can reach people and give updates in a timely manner. Also we have a long proud history, over 50 years, of working in the lake's behalf and this might be the most important task we've ever undertaken.
The first step is to get this out to the entire lake community. Not just Knee Deep Club members but to everyone who enjoys and cares about this lake. Start by putting the enclosed bumper sticker on your car. Make copies of this newsletter and give them to your friends and neighbors. If you belong to another lake association or group contact their boards and tell them that you want them to get involved in SAVE THE LAKE: 2000. They can contact me at (973) 663-0181. If you'd like to be a volunteer in this effort contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Bill Wiedeman, at (973) 398-0948.
We chose that slogan because we want action in an aggressive time frame. We don't want to be talking about this same issue in five years. To accomplish this it will take action by the State Legislature and that takes time. Just look at Fish and Game's license increase, three years and they should get approved this year. We can't wait that long. We have many friends in state government including State Senators Anthony Bucco and Robert Littel and Assemblymen Guy Gregg and Scott Garrett that have helped us in the past. Senattor Bucco is already working on our behalf on this matter. He has been in communication with the club, recently met with Governor Whitman and has extended an invitation to her from the club to visit the lake.
We now need you to contact your state and local representatives and tell them that you support SAVE THE LAKE: 2000. That you want permanent and consistent funding for managing the state's largest lake. That you might support a user fee as long as the revenue is dedicated to Lake Hopatcong only. Contact the Governor's office and let her know how you feel. Those members who live away from the lake should contact their state representatives. This is going to need statewide support to get through the Legislature and we need support from those legislators also.
If you have a computer and are online, contact at us at firstname.lastname@example.org and get on our E-mail mailing list. This way if there are developments that require an immediate response we can get hundreds of letters to the appropriate parties with the click of a button. So please get your name on our E-mail mailing list. Also, if you have friends, neighbors or family members that care about this lake who are not Knee Deep Club members, get them to join now. The more members that we have, the more political influence we have. The main thing is to get active, don't say that's a great idea and hope that someone else does something about it. You have to pick up a pen, you have to write the letters and if we all work hard we'll get results. We've done it before and if we apply the same talents, energy and enthusiasm that we have in the past we can accomplish this also.
Lake Hopatcong is not only the state's largest lake, it is a public lake with a fantastic history that has served this state and it's citizens well. If we hope to have that Exciting Future that this club is all about and to continue to honor our Proud History we must all work hard together.
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