No pain, no gain.
That's the message we take from the new multiyear study of Barnegat Bay by the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.
"The study paints a rather bleak picture," said lead investigator Michael Kennish.
Decades of ever-increasing eutrophication of the shallow, mostly landlocked bay - a process triggered by nitrogen and phosphorus-laden runoff flowing into the bay from developed areas in the watershed - has led to harmful algae blooms that lower the dissolved-oxygen concentration, a decline in eel grass (a crucial habitat for marine life), a decline in clam populations, and an increase in jellyfish, according to the study.
Certainly, the governor and the Legislature have made improving the health of Barnegat Bay a priority. New Jersey now has the nation's toughest limits on nitrogen in fertilizer. Gov. Chris Christie has a 10-point plan for cleaning up the bay, including $20.3 million in grants and loans for towns to buy pollution-reducing equipment - like the two new street sweepers that Long Beach Township and Beach Haven just deployed.
But state and local officials have refused to take the really painful and unpopular steps that are needed to truly turn the bay around - severely limiting development and establishing what are known as Total Maximum Daily Loads to quantify and reduce the harmful nutrients flowing into the bay. TMDLs played a key role in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay, but Christie vetoed a bill that would have led to this approach in Barnegat Bay.
And development, the root cause of eutrophication? Ocean County's new sewer service plan would expand development in the bay's watershed.
According to the study, the Barnegat Bay watershed lost 625 acres of forested land and 375 acres of wetlands from 1995 to 2006 - and every acre of undeveloped land that is replaced by subdivisions, lawns, sidewalks and roads increases the level of pollutants flowing into the bay.
So if New Jersey really wants to save Barnegat Bay, it has to do the things that hurt. It has to enact a TMDL requirement, and it has to say no to more development. If it doesn't hurt, if it isn't controversial, if doesn't get some big-shot developers angry, it's not going to save the bay.
No pain, no gain.