Dam destroyed Ballinger's Creek

The view from Jeffrey Dawson’s waterside home in Little Egg Harbor Township shows a mud flat where there was once a scenic pond. Residents near Roberts Lake are concerned about the wildlife that rely on the lake and about property values.

Edward Lea / staff photographer

Rarely is a new governmental service so closely followed by as dramatic a demonstration of the need for it.

In late November, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced a new smartphone app that makes it quick and easy for people to report possible violations of environmental laws. About a week later, a case of improper pond drainage and habitat destruction at the border of Bass River and Little Egg Harbor townships exemplified the kind of nonemergency violations the public can help squelch with the new app.

The app, called WARN NJDEP and available from the mainstream app stores, lets smartphone users submit a report with photos to the DEP on problems such as improper storage or disposal of waste, wetlands and stream issues, sewage leaks and complaints about odors, smoke or dust. Its GPS capability can automatically include the location.

This sounds great. We’ve come across trees cut down next to a pond and wondered whether the required permit had been secured, and found the remains of a dozen 55-gallon drums in secluded woods and wondered whether it was a site the DEP should know about. With the new app, wondering can easily lead to action.

Reporting problems to the DEP has been possible for years, including through its telephone hotline, 877-WARNDEP, but we like the convenience of a phone app. It will bring many more eyes of citizens to bear on damages to the public’s natural resources and possible dangers.

As it happened, a report the old-fashioned way about an egregious action in Bass River Township — by township workers! — led to DEP action the week following the app’s release.

Apparently at the request of some Bass River residents, the workers removed part of an earthen dam, draining a large pond called Roberts Lake. It’s part of the Ballanger Creek estuary that feeds into the Mullica River.

Little Egg Harbor Township residents whose homes are on the edge of the pond were appalled. The pond had hosted lots of waterfowl, including wood ducks, and bald eagles fished in it.

The draining of the pond left a muddy mess. A resident said a bald eagle showed up but left upon finding the water gone. (Let’s hope the fish were able to move downstream during the unlawful draining.)

Another resident reported that the action also took the water out of an adjacent stand of white cedar trees — a rare kind of habitat the state and environmental organizations work hard to preserve.

In fact, this very property just six years ago benefited from wildlife habitat creation and enhancement under an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant. The work was done through the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and included the planting of 1,500 native fruit-bearing shrubs by volunteers.

Needless to say, once township officials were informed of the nature of their mistake, they accepted full responsibility for rebuilding the dike and began working with the state Bureau of Dam Safety on the proper way to do so.

The new WARN NJDEP makes it easy to report such uninformed or willful habitat destruction so it can quickly be put right.

We hope many people put it on their smartphones and remember to give it a try when they see something suspicious in the New Jersey environment.