Lakewood Faces Water Troubles


lake-carasaljo Lakewood, NJ – With its population predicted to more than double to 230,000, Lakewood and the entire Barnegat Bay region need a more broadly based approach to ensuring water supplies that can support the growth without pressuring an already-stressed environment, state and utility officials said Tuesday.

“Lakewood is the largest community in Monmouth and Ocean counties and is slated to be one of the biggest in the state,” said state Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, during a panel discussion at Georgian Court University on ensuring a sustainable water supply for this burgeoning community.

Lakewood is seeking a town center designation in the state planning process, while its neighbors Jackson and Howell are planning for lesser densities, Singer noted.

“The state is guiding that design. If you can’t expand your sewer service area, you can’t grow,” he said.

“It’s up to the local officials to push for the interests of their local community,” said Justin Flancbaum, executive director of the Lakewood Municipal Utilities Authority, which expects to expand its service area by 40 percent in coming years. “It’s a different town from when I was a kid. But you have to plan for growth.”

Large Jewish, Hispanic and senior populations drove a 54 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010 when the census counted 92,843 residents. A young urban population with large families also helped make Lakewood the seventh-most populated city in New Jersey.

Such rapid urban growth drove the 20th-century expansion of public water supplies in New Jersey, and “the last few years have seen a tailing off of that growth,” said John Plonski, assistant commissioner for water resources management at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

But water is still “a real challenge for the future for the Lakewood community,” Plonski said. “It gets like that for a lot of communities around the state. They have to focus on what (water supply) is there. They can’t just make water.”

Some $20 million in water improvements are being done in Lakewood with help from the state Environmental Infrastructure Trust Fund.”We couldn’t be doing the work without that money,” Singer said. “It’s a part of preparations for growth.”

Flancbaum said: “You can’t look five years down the road. You’ve got to look out 10, 20, 50 years from now.”

The prospect of so much growth by the 2020s alarms Barnegat Bay conservationists because the township is astride the Metedeconk River, a major tributary to the bay that already carries high loads of nutrient pollution that washes in off the suburban landscape.

But Plonski pointedly cautioned that water supply planning is “not a regulatory decision maker” in deciding how a community like Lakewood grows.

“If the state has to get tough to save the water for people in South Jersey … the state may have to take a more forceful role,” said Peg Sturmfels of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

The future of freshwater flows is key to the health of Barnegat Bay, too. It’s high on the priority list of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, the federally funded effort to coordinate research and conservation.

“A lot of people think of water supply in terms of human use, which is important. … There is also ecological supply,” said Robert Nicholson, a supervising hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

{The Asbury Park Press/ Newscenter}