Barnegat Bay in trouble; bills seek to help

The Jersey Shore would not be the Jersey Shore without Barnegat Bay. But with problems plaguing this environmental wonder and economic engine, the state Legislature is taking action toward addressing threats to the bay.

For years, Barnegat Bay’s ecosystems have been declining. The culprits are not hard to identify.

Overdevelopment in the Barnegat Bay watershed has contributed to water pollution and destroyed ecologically priceless marshlands. About onethird of the land in the watershed is now paved.

In addition, storm-water runoff from lawns, roads and parking lots carries a multitude of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay, causing algal blooms that choke oxygen off from native eelgrass and shellfish.

Imagine filling your fish tank or bathtub with water collected from your closest storm drain! The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that as much as two-thirds of the nitrogen going into the bay comes from water runoff.

Barnegat Bay stretches approximately 30 miles along the coast of Ocean County, between Barnegat Peninsula and the mainland. The Toms River and the Forked River are among several rivers that wind through the bay’s 660-square-mile watershed on their way to its inner shore.

This unique area is rich in marine life. Commercial and recreational fishing, and related recreation and eco-tourism, contribute approximately $3.5 billion annually to the region’s economy.

In August, the New Jersey Assembly and Senate environment committees passed a package of bills to improve the health of Barnegat Bay. Taken together, they aim to:

• Reduce the magnitude of pollutants from fertilizer entering the bay by limiting the kinds of fertilizers that can be used and the times when they can be applied; the bill would include training for lawn care professionals.

• Create a storm-water management authority in Ocean County to manage storm-water runoff, and repair and improve the thousands of malfunctioning catch basins in the bay’s watershed.

• Require developers to restore soils after construction and prevent soil compaction that contributes to runoff and soil erosion.

• Authorize Ocean County to develop a comprehensive pollution control plan, and assess fees on new development within the bay’s watershed.

There is still time this year to pass these bills. Our legislators know what will protect the bay, but are they willing to make it happen?

Even with these bills passed into law, the bay’s problems will not be solved overnight.

Bay advocates like Willie De- Camp at Save Barnegat Bay understand that all too well. But waiting will only increase the bay’s problems and further threaten its long-term health and vitality.

Once you see and experience Barnegat Bay for yourself, you will know why we need to protect this special region. For a list of destinations, go to neje/planyourvisit/barnegatebayregiondestinatins. htm.

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director

New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Far Hills