Trenton — The first quantitative biotic index for Barnegat Bay finds the estuary in steep decline and calls for major changes in how it is managed, according to text posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The comprehensive study by Rutgers University researchers has been kept from publication by the Christie administration which claims Barnegat Bay is a success story.
The massive study bears the unwieldy title “Assessment of Nutrient Loading and Eutrophication in Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey in Support of Nutrient Management Planning” and is authored by Rutgers researchers Michael Kennish, Benjamin Fertig and Richard Lathrop. It finds Barnegat Bay to be in “significant ecological decline” and in a “highly eutrophic” condition. The “poorly flushed” estuary does not easily rid itself of pollutants. The net result is an increase in brown tides (harmful algal blooms), loss of eelgrass beds, shrinking abundance of clams and loss of marine habitat.
The study concludes that declines in water quality are “strongly related to land use” and finds the highest levels of nutrient loads connected to developed areas, as opposed to forested tracts. As development spreads it spurs “cascading changes” that push the Bay toward an as yet undetermined “tipping point.”
“This study conclusively documents that Barnegat Bay is in deep trouble and may be spiraling to a point of ecological no return,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who obtained the study through a Freedom of Information Act request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “The science is inescapable that our land use practices directly affect the health of the Bay.”
Governor Chris Christie had vetoed legislation requiring adoption of a pollution diet in the form of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Barnegat Bay. Instead, Christie signed a largely cosmetic bill on lawn fertilizer controls. By contrast, the Rutgers study recommends a much stronger prescription:
- The study says adoption of a TMDL containing a “strict limit on nutrient and phosphorus loads” is “a necessary element” for recovery of the Bay;
- It calls for stronger storm-water controls, open space preservation, soil restoration and other measures to prevent pollutants from reaching the Bay; and
- Underlines that a TMDL and better land management are not an either/or proposition but that achieving both is “critical” to Bay recovery.
“This study should be guiding state policy on Barnegat Bay rather than gathering dust on a shelf,” added Wolfe who has been advocating a TMDL for the ailing estuary. “The Christie people do not want this study to see the light of day because it shows that their so-called recovery package for Barnegat Bay is itself just a different type of ‘nutrient load.’”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability