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Health Of Barnegat Bay Declining, Will Impact Tourism

A new Rutgers study finds the health of the Barnegat Bay keeps getting worse, and it could have a big impact on the state’s tourism economy.

Stacy Proebstle, Townsquare Media

The report found the bay is severely overstressed due to decades of nitrogen and phosphorous entering the waterway from lawns, parking lots and driveways.

“Unless action is taken quickly in the near future, the Barnegat Bay will die” said Michael Kennish, lead author of the report. “We’re losing our sea grass beds, there is an abundance of jellyfish in the water, there is algae that is problematic for tourists” said Kennish.

He said the waterway is suffering from runoff pollution stemming from broken stormwater basins and too much fertilizer flowing into the bay.

“Its essentially fertilizing the estuary to the point where we have excessive growth of algae that leads to a chain reaction of impacts of good habitat and good organisms that we want to see in the bay.”

Kennish said recommendations include restoration of 2,700 storm water basins, preserving open space and limiting development.

“Population growth, land use, development, all of that needs to be a part of the solution. Monmouth and Ocean County are growing at a rapid rate. We are starting to see deterioration in the bay shift further south toward Tuckerton so we need to realize that things are getting worse.”

“Unless we manage growth better, limit development in environmentally sensitive areas, clean up storm water and stop paving over our landscape we will not be able to protect our waterways and oceans ” said Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club.

“This bay needs help now,” said Sen. Bob Smith, a Middlesex County Democrat who heads the Senate panel.

The Democrat-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 stormwater utilities, allowing a central repository for funds dedicated to repairing malfunctioning storm basins. Kennish said just 10 stormwater basins out of 2,700 are being repaired as part of a pilot project; Republican Gov. Chris Christie said the issue needed more study.

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

The Department of Environmental Protection said Christie has made the bay’s health a top environmental priority. The governor laid out a 10-point plan in 2010 to restore the bay.

Over one million tourists come to the Barnegat Bay each year, contributing $3.3 billion to the region’s economy.

“We owe it to the residents of the shore and the thousands of people who flock to the Barnegat Bay each year for vacation to try to reverse course on decades of misuse and neglect” said Smith.

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