Study: Barnegat Bay may face death

In this photograph taken Saturday June 25, 2011, sunlight streams through the clouds over Barnegat Bay. New Jersey environmental officials are in the midst of a 10-point plan to improve the health of the fragile waterway, which is threatened by pollution. Stormwater runoff from lawns and overflowing sewer systems are a major culprit. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
In this photograph taken Saturday June 25, 2011, sunlight streams through the clouds over Barnegat Bay. New Jersey environmental officials are in the midst of a 10-point plan to improve the health of the fragile waterway, which is threatened by pollution. Stormwater runoff from lawns and overflowing sewer systems are a major culprit. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (AP)

A Rutgers scientist says the N.J. waterway is in danger from unchecked runoff.

Posted: August 15, 2012

LAVALLETTE, N.J. - A marine scientist has sounded an alarm over the health of Barnegat Bay, one of New Jersey's most used recreational waterways and the source of $3 billion in annual tourist dollars.

Michael Kennish of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University told lawmakers Monday that the bay was in danger of dying from unchecked runoff. The pollution sources include broken storm water basins and too much fertilizer. The pollution decreases oxygen levels, causing algae blooms and habitat loss.

Kennish, who coauthored a just-finished multiyear study of the bay, said the waterway needed urgent attention. The study, considered a definitive assessment of the bay's ecosystems, found worsening conditions in all parts of the waterway, not just the most heavily populated northern portion.

"This study paints a rather bleak picture of the ecological health of the Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary," Kennish told members of the Senate and Assembly environmental committees, which held a joint hearing in Lavallette.

The bay area covers more than 42 miles of shoreline from the Point Pleasant Canal in the north to Little Egg Harbor Inlet in the south, and is protected from the open ocean by a system of barrier beaches, wetlands, and dunes.

"This bay needs help now," said Sen. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), who heads the Senate panel.

The Democratic-led Legislature passed legislation requiring changes to fertilizer composition that are designed to slow the release of chemicals into the bay, but Smith said more aggressive steps to stem nitrogen and phosphorous runoff have been blocked by the Christie administration.

The governor conditionally vetoed a bill that would have created storm-water utilities, allowing a central repository for funds dedicated to repairing malfunctioning storm basins.

Kennish said just 10 storm-water basins out of 2,700 were being repaired as part of a pilot project; Gov. Christie said the issue needed more study.

Smith called the slow pace of basin repairs "a disaster" and said more money needed to be devoted to the project. He said as much as $100 million would be needed over the next decade or two.

Environmentalists also want the state to move forward with a pollution control mechanism known as TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), which would allow the state's environmental regulators to monitor and control the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into the bay.

The Department of Environmental Protection said Christie had made the bay's health a top environmental priority.

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