The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has reported Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) on Lake Hopatcong, located in the Musconetcong River Watershed headwaters. Because HABs are a health concern, the Department has advised the public to avoid activities that might bring them into contact with lake water such as swimming, wading, water-skiing, kayaking, windsurfing, and paddle boarding, and fish caught in the lake should definitely not be eaten. HABs are also highly toxic to pets, livestock and wildlife, so appropriate steps should be taken to prevent these animals from drinking lake water, and unusual deaths or behavior of wildlife near the lake should be reported.
A change in water quality upstream in the Musconetcong River headwaters could affect river health and downstream communities. MWA is very concerned about HABs occurring this early in the season and will be helping NJDEP to identify new outbreaks if and when they occur. While there have not been any reports downstream of Lake Hopatcong yet; we know that there is a risk of HABs showing up in Lake Musconetcong, Waterloo, Saxton Lake and other slow-moving parts of the Musconetcong River as the water continues to warm. We are working with local organizations like the Lake Hopatcong Foundation to share information with the public through social and conventional media as it becomes available.
For those that are new to HABs, these organisms are not algae at all, but cyanobacteria - a type of bacteria that is capable of photosynthesis - just like true algae. They are naturally occurring and grow best in freshwater when the water is calm and the weather is warm and sunny - typically during late summer and early fall. They can form large bluish-green mats, but a bright green pond or one that looks like it has green or white streaks or spots that look like paint could also have HABs.
Under some environmental conditions, HABs can produce toxins that can make animals and people extremely sick - any contact with the water should be avoided. Accidental exposure should be treated very seriously - exposed skin should be rinsed in a shower immediately. If you or a child swims in scummy water, report it to your doctor or Poison Control right away. Domestic animals and pets should be prevented from drinking water from ponds, lakes or streams with HABs.
How do you know if an algae bloom is a HAB? If you think your favorite water body is an algae bloom and there are no warning signs, you can help your community by reporting it to NJDEP at 1-877-WARNDEP (1-877-927-6337) or you can go to the new NJDEP HAB website. The website contains useful information about photos to identify HABs as well as pictures that can help you tell normal plants and algae from HABs. There is also a link to the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC. Please feel free to contact MWA's Water Quality Program Coordinator here if you have any additional questions. You can also recheck this blog post. MWA will post updates as they become available.