New Jersey announces $13 million in new initiatives to fight harmful algae blooms

LAKE HOPATCONG, New Jersey (WABC) -- Officials in New Jersey on Monday announced more than $13 million in funding to local communities and a new initiative to reduce and prevent future harmful algal blooms in the state.

Governor Phil Murphy and officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced the new initiative at a meeting with Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer and Tom Malinowski, and it is intended to address the increased occurrence of harmful algal blooms statewide through an enhanced program of science-based prevention, mitigation, study, and response.

The initiative will leverage both state and federal funds, including those available through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, to offer principal forgiveness to offset infrastructure upgrades necessary to reduce the discharge of nutrient-laden runoff into bodies of water, one of the primary causes of harmful algal blooms.

"The presence of harmful algal blooms in New Jersey's waterbodies severely impacts our public health and economy," Murphy said. "The rise of harmful algal blooms is a global challenge and our initiative to reduce future blooms will allow us to protect the health of our residents, as well as the economies of our lake communities."

In 2019, there were over 70 suspected and 39 confirmed harmful algal blooms in New Jersey, which is higher than the previous two years.

The new initiative includes three components to prevent harmful algal blooms from forming in New Jersey's waterbodies. The first component provides more than $13 million in funding to local communities to reduce harmful algal blooms.

--$2.5 million will be available as matching funds for lakes and harmful algal bloom management grants, including treatment and prevention demonstration projects. The DEP will issue a request for proposals in December and will offer a 100 percent match, resulting in $5 million in total projects.

--In early December, New Jersey will make up to $1 million in Watershed Grant funding available for planning and projects that reduce the nonpoint source pollution, including nutrients, that contribute to harmful algal blooms in surface waters of the State. A match will not be required, but will improve the project ranking.

--New Jersey will offer $10 million in principal forgiveness grants through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for half of the cost, capped at $2 million, of sewer and stormwater upgrades to reduce the flow of nutrients to affected waterbodies.

The second element of the initiative is to build upon the state's scientific expertise and enhance its capacity to respond to harmful algal bloom events, which includes establishing a team of experts from across various sectors to evaluate the state's strategies to prevent HABs and pursuing additional monitoring, testing and data management capacity.

The third component increases the Department of Environmental Protection's ability to communicate with affected communities.

The department will host two regional harmful algal bloom summits in early 2020 to better share information ahead of the warmer months when harmful algal blooms begin to appear.

To assist with this effort, the department will also develop new web tools to better communicate harmful algae bloom incidents.

The department will continue to assist local governments with stormwater and septic discharge compliance and investigate facilities near waterbodies to ensure compliance with discharge permits.

Often referred to as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are not true algae but are capable of excessive growth through photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria blooms are usually a bright green, but can also appear as spilled paint, "pea soup," or as having a thick coating or "mat" on the surface. These blooms can often be confused for typical algae blooms.

Exposure can cause a range of health effects, including rashes, allergy-like reactions, flu-like symptoms, gastroenteritis, respiratory irritation, skin rashes and eye irritation.

Pets are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cyanobacteria and the toxins they produce and should not be allowed to drink or enter water where a bloom is suspected.

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