Please, No More Aquatic Chicken Littles: A Resident’s Perspective

There’s been a lot of conversation and media attention paid to an issue at Lake Hopatcong, that as a lakefront homeowner, really has me disturbed.  The issue is all of the hysteria about lake levels.

First , there absolutely is no issue here, yet certain parties just will not let this go. I think the tipping point for me was a recent editorial by one of the hair on fire Chicken Little crowd that painted our wonderful lake in such an unfavorable light that it was described as a disaster.

I’m sorry, there is no disaster here and it’s ridiculous to portray it as such.  It is the normal course of events that any reasonable person would expect to occur at any lake, pond, river or stream after the warmest summer in recorded history and after what was a seven month long dry pattern which caused the entire state to be placed under a drought watch.  That climate information is not from me but from State Climatologist David Robinson as quoted in a recent Associated Press article.

In September alone we were at a 3.86 inch rain deficit, at least until the last four days, then it rained hard and we ended the month with 2.4” more rain than a typical September.  As a result the lake level shot up to just short of the top of the dam and all of October we enjoyed levels that are 8 to 12 inches higher than we usually have in October.  So I was hoping that finally this ridiculous conversation would go away.  And I wouldn’t be reading anymore statements like “Horrible Lake Levels”, “killing Lake Hopatcong”, “boats stranded all over the lake”, “most ramps will soon be unusable”, “boats stuck in the mud” that appeared in that editorial that looked all the more foolish because by the time it was published we had unusually high lake levels.

Unfortunately the Chicken Little crowd continues their campaign of misinformation.  It’s almost like they gained some sort of celebrity status over this issue, and even with the record levels we’re now enjoying, they still can’t let go.  At this point you have to ask is it about the lake or is it about them.  I always viewed them like the new brand of Hollywood starlets, that if the media would quit covering everything Britney, Paris and Lindsay did, they would just fade away.  I was hoping the recent heavy rains would find our local celebrities just fading away, but no such luck.

What most upsets me about all of the hysteria and misinformation is that by constantly portraying the most fantastic lake in the entire state as a lake that is in constant crisis, two very negative things are occurring.  It is absolutely killing our real estate values and long term, the things we should and could be doing to protect the lake’s environment are being ignored.  A local news article reporting on a recent Lake Commission meeting said the focus “was clearly on quantity (of water) not quality” and that pretty much sums up the overall effect.  If you think it’s not having an impact, the three individuals running for our US Congressional seat all mentioned the low lake levels here in an election related news article.

As to the real estate values, everyone knows we are in a very unfavorable market.  Too many homes, not enough buyers and values drop.  But waterfront homes always performed better during a down turn because some people felt this is the time to get into that lakefront home they always dreamed of.  I know there are a lot of dynamics at play here but this steady drumbeat of negative press is not helping.  So what effect is years of inaccurate negative press about “this dying lake” having?   Who’s to say, but imagine what just another 5% or 10% drop in value would mean.

Just last evening my wife and I were enjoying another wonderful evening up in our boathouse overlooking the lake. That would be beautiful Lake Hopatcong, in all it’s fall splendor and we were thinking how absolutely fortunate we were to be able to live in such an ideal setting.  But that’s not the image some prospective homebuyer would get if they saw all this relentless negative press about water levels.

But these are the facts, whether you enjoy sailing, water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, or any kind of recreational boating Lake Hopatcong is the best place in all of New Jersey to enjoy those activities. If you always dreamed of living in paradise, some place where there’s beautiful scenery from lake vistas, sunsets, great blue herons feeding along the shoreline or bald eagles and ospreys flying over head, it’s all here.  This is a wonderful place and not the doom and gloom location that some would have you believe.

If you enjoy fishing there’s no better destination.  Not just great fishing, but  world class trophy fishing.  Ten Pound Walleye and hybrid striped bass, 20 pound channel cats, 30 pound muskies, fantastic pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass along with great spring trout fishing and tons of panfish.  This is a wonderful lake and contrary to the hair on fire lake level extremists, there is no disaster occurring here. It makes me crazy to read this stuff week after week.

Home values are important, but the long term environmental issues that are being ignored is an even greater concern.  It’s hair on fire Chicken Littles screaming “Oh my God the lake levels! The lake levels!” all the time and the important issues barely get mentioned.  It’s not just this recent burst of lake level hysteria, this has been going on for far too long.

I know that early last spring we were in a very serious state, however I don’t agree with the view of many on how we arrived there.  But that’s now literally water under the bridge so there’s no need wasting a lot of time discussing how that occurred.  We were down 42 inches after ice out and a lot of people wanted to shut off the flow to the Musconetcong River so that we could recover to normal lake levels.  By stopping the 5.2 million gallons per day flow we were releasing back then it would take over 500 days to get to normal levels!  So these Chicken Little folks cherry picked facts and data, rounded everything up (if it benefited their theory) and compounded it with normal climatic data and led people to believe that shutting down the dam was some sort of panacea.  But the only thing that would salvage the 2009 season at that point would be a whole bunch of rain.  Ultimately that’s what occurred.  That was the end of the story.

Unfortunately this group just won’t let it go.  So we don’t discuss funding, staffing, or completing sewer projects, improving storm water runoff or any water QUALITY issues.  We just talk about lake levels.  Are you even aware that 25 lake front wells have to be capped because they’re contaminated with heavy industrial solvents that are used to try to make failing septic systems last a little longer.  Does this pose any health risk to lake users?  Can it affect fish?  Do we know if it has been used in other areas around the lake?  Is anyone looking at making sure these solvents aren’t being used anymore?  No, no discussion has occurred because all of the discussion is about the lake levels.

It’s just not this most recent flurry of press, many remember these same people were trying to get the dam closed this spring before the ice was even off the lake.  Fortunately they didn’t get their way because the heavy spring rains that breached Lake Shawnee’s dam raised the lake so fast that a boat house in River Styx and a 100 year old dock at the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club were torn out by that floating ice.  Imagine the damage if these Chicken Littles had been able to convince the state to improperly close the dam before the ice had gone out.

It seems no one ever tries to discourage or rein these people in.  It appears some folks want to encourage them and elevate them and this issue to the detriment of important environmental issues that aren’t being dealt with.  Two meetings ago the LHC Chair said “we’ve gone through all the channels stopping just short of a midnight raid to close the dam”.  That is such a absurd statement, he should have looked at the data available on the USGS site and saw that at the very worse point we were never more than 6” below where we should expect to be seasonally.  With the heat and low rainfall this summer, those levels should not shock anyone.  They never resulted in a situation that could remotely be described as disastrous.

No one would be against ideal water levels through out the boating season, but that’s just not always going to be the case.  Also most people could agree that the procedures for the annual draw downs and the five year draw down could be tweaked to everybody’s satisfaction. But it’ll take an agreement with the many downstream stakeholder groups.

Obviously some people will disagree with my view and that is not a problem.  It’s that this debate is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room to the point that nothing else gets done.  There’s no funding for the Commission next year but there’s no discussion or effort being made to find funding or develop an independent revenue stream.  Without funding there’ll be no staff and also no means to conduct meaningful water quality initiatives, including weed harvesting.  All that’s discussed is the water levels but I think most people would agree that water quality should be our top priority.

The latest press I read on this subject said, “Even with all of the rainfall over the past few weeks the lake’s water levels were down more than one foot, leaving boats in some of the shallower coves stranded” WHAT!!!!  The day that was published we were more than 8 inches higher than we should expect on that exact date or less than one inch from spilling over the dam.  It almost made it sound like there are different levels or tides in different parts of the lake.  Are there any adults out there?  Can we please get back to the serious subjects like water quality, funding and staffing.  Will people finally stop portraying this wonderful resource as anything less than the fantastic lake that it is?  This is the truth, lake levels will vary from time to time as a result of climate, it’s a natural lake, THIS IS NOT A SWIMMING POOL.

Tim Clancy is a Lake Hopatcong resident, and his views are not representative of the groups he is involved with.  He also submits the following photos:

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 Here's a pic of what 12 CFS or 7.5 MGPD looks like. This is the spillway under Lakeside Blvd. at the State Park, this is   where the Musconetcong River begins.

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 Here's water entering from Lake Shawnee (normal flow not after a rain)

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 Here's Jaynes Brook entering Henderson Cove

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 Quarry Creek at Prospect Pt. Rd.

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 Unnamed creek entering Bright's Cove

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 Outflow from Lake Winona

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 Another babbling brook at behind the Shell Station at Minisink & Espanong

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 Here's one of a half dozen minor springs that I'm aware of.  All of   these run 24/7/365 and this is just in Jefferson Twsp.  So no one is   stealing our water, we obviously get more than we release.  But we go   down in the summer months w/ evaporation being the major culprit, but   also all the trees & plants along the lake, shallow wells, many lake   homes still draw out of the lake and also some people irrigate their   lawns w/ lake water.  I was told once by a scientist that we can lose   up to 1/2 inch a day from evaporation during the hot summer months. Remember this is just Jefferson which I know the best and may have   more than the other towns but I know of a few more significant flows   in other parts of the lake.  No One knows how many underwater springs   & seeps exist but they are there also.  So if Shawnee is the primary   source, I'm aware of at least 7 others I would consider significant   flows.  How many dozens of minor creeks or how many underwater   springs  I couldn't say.  But by these photos alone it's obvious a   lot of water enters our lake every day regardless of rain fall and   that is how the Musconetcong River is formed.  Many come together to   form one.  Same as the Rockaway or Raritan watersheds or for that   matter almost any watershed.

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