Marge Camposano loves to go sit on the shore of Harry Wright Lake with her evening coffee, taking in the peace and quiet as the day winds down.
The Camden Avenue resident has frequented the lake for years, bringing her children to swim there when they were younger.
Now, she’s not so sure she’d go into the water.
“It’s such a pretty spot,” she said, but she’s worried: increasingly there have been closures of the lake to swimming due to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the water there.
“I’ve lived here 28 years, and up until a few years ago it was never closed,” she said.
With Pine Lake permanently closed to swimming and little hope that it will ever reopen, Camposano spoke to the Manchester Township Council on Monday night, pleading with them to take steps to try to reverse the problems now, before it becomes like Pine Lake.
“I don’t want to see that happen to Harry Wright Lake,” Camposano said.
Harry Wright Lake is one of a dozen or so freshwater lakes tested each week by the Ocean County Health Department for levels of fecal coliform, a bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals that can cause illness in humans and damage the environment, killing fish and other aquatic animals, according to www.epa.gov, the website of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulates the levels of bacteria that are allowable for a body of water to be deemed safe for swimming. A fecal coliform level of 200 or more colonies per 100 milliliters of water – for a freshwater site – is deemed unacceptable, according to the Ocean County Health Department’s website.
Large quantities of fecal coliform can be harmful to the environment, killing fish and other aquatic life and also suggests the water is contaminated with bacteria that can cause disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site.
In late July, Harry Wright Lake had unacceptable levels of fecal coliform for more than a week. The swimming ban began there on July 26, when the coliform levels exceeded 1200 colonies per 100 ml – six times the level deemed unacceptable – according to the results posted on the county’s website. It took until Aug. 3 before the levels had fallen enough for swimming to be allowed again.
The causes of the high levels seem to be multiple. A population of Canada geese can often be found around the lake, though Camposano says the number of geese appears to be fewer this year. Storm runoff has long been blamed.
And hot temperatures – like the ones that occurred the week before the coliform levels spiked in Harry Wright Lake – make the bacteria more active, said Council Vice President Brendan Weiner, who presided over Monday’s meeting in the absence of Council President Craig Wallis.
But how to address those problems is a difficult question, Weiner said. There have been discussions of trying to drain the lake during the winter months, similar to how Lacey drains Deer Head Lake, in an attempt to kill the bacteria, he said.
“We’ve been denied on them in the past,” Weiner said, with the state Department of Environmental Protection saying no.
It’s a solution that may not be having much effect in Lacey, as the bacteria numbers in Deer Head Lake this summer have far exceeded those of Harry Wright Lake and the closures have been more extensive.
Controlling the goose population has been difficult, Weiner said, noting that the geese often are simply no longer afraid. Metal silhouettes of dogs – designed to spook the geese and keep them from landing – have been removed. Weiner said the township used to pay a service to bring in dogs to scare the geese, but stopped using it when it appeared to no longer be effective.
It’s a frustrating problem, Weiner admitted, but added that Manchester is taking measures that it hops will help. New ordinances regulating how much fertilizer homeowners can use and forcing the coverage of storm drains to prevent garbage from being washed into them are a start.
He is hopeful that Gov. Chris Christie’s recent signing of a package of bills addressing water quality and making money available for stormwater runoff projects will help as well.
That, too, has been a tough road in the past, he said, because Manchester has had to fight to prove it sits in the Barnegat Bay watershed, just like its neighbors of Berkeley and Toms River.
“Convincing them (the state DEP) is really tough,” said Sabina Skibo, the township clerk.
Camposano said she realizes the problem won’t be fixed overnight.
“Just like not one thing polluted the lake, there’s not one solution (to all of it),” she said. But she wants to make sure the town doesn’t forget about it.
“I want to see them do everything possible to fix it,” she said after the meeting, then turned to Weiner. “I will keep reminding you about it.”