Herbicides are not the answer for Lake Topanemus

Lake Topanemus in Freehold Township needs our help. It is slowly filling in and losing its water depth. The lake is bloated and unhealthy. A diet rich in phosphorous and nitrogen fertilizers created a sick pond. All of those beautiful green lawns generate a serious health problem downstream. This downhill flow results in seasonal invasive weed growth and soil build-up. The lake is dealing with many challenges, but there is hope.

The late Dr. Gene Golub of Freehold Township authored the Lake Topanemus Watershed Action Plan. Gene served as the mayor of Freehold Township and held a PhD in environmental science. This award-winning document is the model for watershed restoration. Freehold Township’s award winning action plan did not include aquatic restricted use pesticide in our watershed. Mayor Golub’s vision called for a comprehensive sustained environmental approach. Watersheds are life.

Through an Open Public Records Act request, we learned that the lake “restoration” method used by Freehold Township between 2012 and 2014 dumped three different aquatic herbicides into the lake on 10 different days. Our lake received an estimated $80,000 cocktail of three toxic chemicals; Flumioxazin, Copper Sulfate and Fluridone were used to kill aquatic growth.

Down at the pond, baby turtles recently hatched, coincidentally, herbicide was scheduled at this time. The label for one herbicide states “there are inherent unintended risks associated with the use of this product which are impossible to eliminate.” Baby turtles swimming in a sea of risky chemicals?

There is hope. New Jersey is moving to organic methods of farming, lawn maintenance and yes, natural lake restoration. The Lake Topanemus Commission unanimously voted no for the use of aquatic pesticides in 2017. The commission’s action and Dr. Golub’s model are now in rhythm with nature. The commission should be applauded.

We can no longer kick the environmental can down the generational road. There is public interest for restoration, there always has been. Neighbors and friends of Lake Topanemus have an online petition supporting natural lake restoration. In the first three weeks, the Save the Lake petition has 1,400 supporters. Public interest equals grant funding, thus action. People care.

The Monmouth County shared service program is a progressive solution. Municipalities can cooperatively share a county dredge. This boat digs and removes soil. This cumbersome permit process begins with the first step, consensus.

Another new proposal for 2018 is weed harvesting. Harvesting is a natural way to pull invasive weed up from the root. This is like mechanically weeding a garden in the water. Monmouth County shared services is considering a weed harvesting boat.

In 2009, the Monmouth Future Coastal Lakes Study recommended weed harvesting, stating, “equipment could be purchased by the county and through an interlocal agreement be used to manage weed growth using municipal personnel in each of the coastal lakes. This shared services approach would reduce overall costs of operation and maintenance and eliminate any downtime of the machine.”

Lastly, an old natural technique with a modern twist is being used throughout the United States. Triploid carp, a non-invasive sterile fish, is a weed-eating marvel of nature. The carp program is managed by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Today, pond size limitations of no greater than 10 acres limit this option in New Jersey.

The carp option needs to be made as favorable as the unnatural use of toxic pesticides in New Jersey. Many other states have the carp option available to larger lakes. All of these actions are progressive, just like Dr. Golub’s vision.

Joseph Ferdinando
Freehold Township