Our coastal lakes are the beautiful but troubled jewels of the shore. Here are some ideas on restoring them.
906-B Grand Central Avenue
Lavallette, NJ 08735
As printed in the Ocean Star
The Jersey Shore is dotted with overlooked lakes and ponds, forgotten pearls, as it were, alongside our more lustrous jewels, our coastal bays and ocean.
Whether is it Wreck Pond near Spring Lake, Lake of the Lilies in Point Pleasant Beach, Twilight Lake in Bay Head, or Pohatcong Lake in Tuckerton, these small water bodies merit our attention – as homes for wildlife, as amenities to the neighborhoods they serve, and as examples whose successful restoration can inspire us to restore our larger bays to health.
Many coastal lakes exhibit in miniature the ills that plague coastal estuaries such as Barnegat Bay: overdeveloped surrounding lands, siltation from storm drains, excessive loads of nutrients, algal blooms, and neighbors unschooled in how to maintain an eco-friendly shoreline.
There is no set formula for tackling ecological decline in marine or freshwater ecosystems; it is a world of unique localities. Nevertheless, certain basic principles suggest themselves wherever restoration is contemplated.
The health of a lake is defined by the health of its watershed, the drainage area from which it draws its sustenance. The first step in restoration is to define that watershed with a mental or actual map. This is a matter of tracing each stream and culvert back to its source.
An important question may be whether a watershed has been artificially enlarged. In the 1970’s the New Jersey Department of Transportation diverted stormwater from Route 35 into Lake of the Lilies, which has today rendered that lake nearly nonexistent as a result of siltation and an overload of nutrients. A lake should not be required to absorb runoff from a drainage area foreign to it.
Siltation traps may be necessary on all stormwater catch basins within the watershed of a small lake. Twilight Lake is an example. Alongside every culvert entering that lake, a small delta of sediment can be observed. Each delta is comprised of the heavier sediments washed down the storm drains. The finer sediments have settled out in middle. This process is gradually filling the lake.
Once siltation traps are installed, townships need to shoulder the cost of maintaining them. This may not be happy financial news for a governing body, yet it may amount to a lesser expense than that of dredging an entire lake every forty years to save it from being rendered extinct by sedimentation.
Because siltation lessens the volume of a lake, it diminishes the lake’s ability to dilute excessive loads of nutrients entering through streams and culverts. In restoring any lake it will be helpful to discover which nutrient – nitrogen or phosphorous – is the culprit in causing the excess algal blooms characteristic of threatened and dying lakes. When algae dies, it can deprive a lake of oxygen.
For lakes that are salty or brackish arms of a tidal estuary, such as Lake Louise in Point Pleasant Beach, or for lakes that are impoundments of streams emerging from New Jersey’s Pinelands, excess nitrogen from fertilizer and air pollution may be the primary culprit. For non-pinelands freshwater lakes, excess phosphorous, possibly from fertilizer, is more likely to blame.
Once the basic features of a lake have been outlined, educating all homeowners in its watershed is essential. And this is part of the beauty of these coastal pearls: the limited size of their watersheds gives educational campaigns a degree of feasibility less daunting than is the case for larger regional water bodies.
Where the hometown lake is concerned, every local has the opportunity to perceive the threat directly for him or herself. Then he or she can understand tangibly the need to eliminate or reduce fertilizer, support the township in maintaining storm drains, keep storm drains free from all but water, and restrain overbuilding within the watershed.
Proper maintenance of shorelines is another area upon which homeowners, neighborhood associations, and townships can constructively focus. A few simple but important rules apply. Lawns should never extend all the way to the shore of a lake. This creates inviting habitat for geese, whose droppings pollute lakes. It also invites the problematical human habit of fertilizing to the lake’s edge.
The shoreline should instead be ringed with native plants, which are those species that historically occur naturally in our area and therefore require no fertilizer. Any lawn near those plants should also remain unfertilized.
The rule for stormwater runoff – the Golden-Green Rule, as it were – is that every drop of water should pass through a vegetated area for natural removal of nitrogen, sediments, and phosphorous before it enters a waterway. Although this Golden-Green rule is too often honored in the breach, it is a touchstone for restoration of any body of water.
Environmentalists, scientists, and homeowners are together exploring the undiscovered art of maintaining healthy lakes and estuaries on a suburbanized planet. A pond is a good place in which to change the world.
William deCamp Jr. is Chairman of Save Barnegat Bay, which is based in Lavallette, www.savebarnegatbay.org.