I accredit my passion for the environment to New Jersey’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Hopatcong. Lake Hopat-what? That is the typical response I receive. Lake Hopatcong has given me a lot of firsts: my first job, my first catch, and my first – and more notably last – time jumping into a body of water where I can’t see the bottom.
The lake has seen me at my worst and at my best, acting as a silent companion, from losing a $20 bill in its murky waters to learning to drive a boat. The same cannot be said for myself; I have seen the lake at its worst but not its best. In 2019, Lake Hopatcong experienced a harmful algae bloom that deemed nearly every section of the lake hazardous for human activity. Signs were plastered along the coastlines with warnings of “DANGER” and “HAZARDOUS.”
The cause of the algae bloom came from rainstorms that flooded the lake with human-caused run-off, such as fertilizer and sewage. The businesses that relied on the lake suffered tremendously from the depletion of tourism. Residents, businesses, and boaters alike proposed solutions to restore the lake. County officials bickered amongst themselves in claiming responsibility and finding solutions. Three years after the incident, Lake Hopatcong was awarded over a million dollars to address the continuous algae blooms. This is the story I give to tourists who visit my job and ask, “What about that algae bloom?” I prefer this question over the more frequent one, “What about the Lake Hopatcong Anaconda?” but that is a story for a different day.
Fertilizer and sewage were the suspects of algae bloom; climate change was the main culprit. Intense storms and heightened water temperatures created the perfect environment for growing algae. Since 2019, one other incident has been reported by the state of a potential algae bloom. However, I still see it. I see it in the still-standing waters of the canals and the corners of boat docks. I see ducks swimming through it and the bass hiding under it. But we don’t acknowledge it because it’s just a little, not enough to be deemed hazardous to humans. But what about the bass? The mother duck and her ducklings?
The algae bloom on Lake Hopatcong was a scaled-down version of the damage climate change can cause on a global scale. Action shouldn’t be taken when the damages finally affect us; it should have started decades ago when we received the warning signs. As I said, I have seen Lake Hopatcong at its worst; I hope to restore it to its best one day.