The beauty of Barnegat Bay hides the fact that it is a sick body of water. Keeping it from getting sicker will require stronger pollution and development controls and repairs to the county's storm-water system.
Storm water carrying fertilizers, animal waste, heavy metals, oils, trash, and other materials flows into the bay, choking the life out of it. The pollutants are unwelcome by-products of suburban growth in Ocean County, where the population has grown from 107,000 in 1960 to 570,000.
There are so many sea nettles, which are stinging jellyfish, that locals don't bother swimming. Residents live with the stench from fish kills near the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant. Frequent algae blooms suffocate aquatic life. Rutgers University scientists say the bay is "impaired," a designation under the U.S. Clean Water Act that gives state authorities the legal heft to impose tougher pollution standards.
Gov. Christie has helped by negotiating to close the Oyster Creek plant, and signing the nation's most restrictive lawn-fertilizer law. But he has resisted tougher pollution standards, pinning his argument on a limited test of the bay's oxygen levels. Scientists, however, argue that the jellyfish, algae blooms, and fish kills also are criteria for impairment.
Christie also recently vetoed a bill calling for builders of new developments to help pay for repairing 2,700 malfunctioning storm water basins, which allow pollutants to flow into the bay. Saving the bay is going to be costly, but failing to act would have economic consequences as well.
Barnegat Bay and the nearby barrier islands are popular vacation spots for Philadelphians, New Jerseyans, and New Yorkers, who pump $3 billion into the local economy annually.
Tougher limits on pollutants and repairs to the storm water system would help the bay start to renew itself. It will be expensive, but better to spend now rather than lose tourism and compromise the region's quality of life.