Bacteria Foul N.J.’s Largest Lake, Indicating Broader Crisis

The utilities are a mechanism for localities to charge fees to property owners based on how much stormwater runoff they generate. Runoff not only increases flooding, it sluices sewage, fertilizers and other pollutants into lakes and oceans, nourishing bacteria.

Fees would be higher for properties that have more impervious surfaces, like asphalt; commercial properties would likely pay the most.

The income would have to go to reduce and safely manage runoff, with better drainage, protective plantings like rain gardens and green roofs, and maintenance.

But Hopatcong-area Republican politicians are having none of it. Some are urging their towns to pass resolutions vowing not to establish the voluntary utilities, and at least one, Sparta, part of the lake’s watershed, has done so.

“This is a new tax, no matter how you cut it,” Assemblyman Hal Wirths of Sussex County, which shares the lake with Morris County, said at a recent hearing.

“The politicians are not helping,” said Elliott Ruga, deputy director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, a group of local environmental organizations that supports the utilities.

“It’s really a problem that because of ideology, we may not find a solution,” Mr. Ruga added.

Fred Lubnow, a private-sector water consultant who has worked in the community for decades, is careful not to stress climate change in public meetings and avoids discussing stormwater utilities: His job, he stresses, is to describe the “menu” of needed improvements, not how to pay for them.