Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Water Monitoring and Barnegat Bay

NJ Water Monitoring Council Meeting Focuses on Barnegat Bay

Barnegat Bay, photo credit: NY Times Richard Perry
In early February, COA participated in a NJ Water Monitoring Council meeting that was hosted by the Barnegat Bay Partnership.  The goal of the NJ Water Monitoring Council was “to promote and facilitate the coordination, collaboration and communication of scientifically sound, ambient water quality and quantity information to support effective environmental management.”  About 100 people attended. 

DEP highlighted the Governor’s 10 point plan for the Bay which included developing nutrient loading targets to direct restoration efforts and to conduct more research to fill gaps in data.  DEP has been monitoring the Bay more intensively from the summer of 2011 and will continue to do so through the summer of 2013.

The northern part of the Bay has the highest loadings of nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediments – which are linked to the intense development in this region.  The Toms River, which drains the largest basin of the watershed, is the largest source of nutrient loadings. 

Nitrogen pollution comes from land disturbance, increased erosion, fertilizer use, burning fossil fuels and its fallout from the air, and increased hardened surfaces such as pavement and roofs that prevent rain, and nitrogen from getting absorbed into the land and plants.   Coastal waters may become even more susceptible to nutrient pollution as coastal waters warm in response to climate change.

Too many nutrients in the Bay has resulted in the excessive growth of harmful algae blooms, such as brown tide, and macroalgae which can lower dissolved oxygen levels in localized areas and degrade seafloor habitats.     Both of these can contribute to the loss of sea grass that has been documented in Bay.  The composition of the microalgal community, and associated food quality for other sea life, may also be affected by nutrient levels.

Although some shellfish can thrive under high microalgae levels, shellfish are negatively impacted by brown tide blooms, decreased food quality, and excessive macro algae such as sea lettuce.  Young clams are also very sensitive to certain types of chemical pollution, such as oil and gas from cars and boats. 

As part of the 10 Point Plan, nutrient water quality standards were adopted for marine waters.  DEP now needs to evaluate the Bay under these standards.  DEP will be taking a comprehensive approach to looking at the nutrient loading problems in Barnegat Bay, including the impacts of Superstorm Sandy.  For example, sand and debris associated with the storm surge and breeches have covered seagrass beds and wetlands areas.  Localized contamination may also have occurred from fuel tanks, cars, fertilizer and other household chemicals. The official determination of whether the Bay fails to meet the state nutrient water quality standard is important for requiring action to be taken to reduce nutrient loadings.

In light of Superstorm Sandy, the need for understanding the sources of the bay’s problems and action to reduce these impacts is more important than ever.  Implementation of the Barnegat Bay Partnership’s strategic plan is critical and can serve as a guide for recovery efforts.  The Special Area Management Plan that was part of the Governor’s 10 Point Plan should be made a priority and be part of the recovery process.  In addition, more enforcement of and stronger stormwater regulations are still needed.  Greater awareness and efforts by the public to decrease the use of fossil fuels and to reduce rain and fertilizer runoff as well as soil loss and erosion would be beneficial to the Bay.

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