The health of the Barnegat Bay was the focus of a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Environment committee today in Ocean County.

Michael Kennish of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers told lawmakers Monday the bay is in danger of dying from unchecked runoff. The pollution sources include broken storm water drains and too much fertilizer flowing into the bay.

"In the long term, we need to look at how to plan population growth, development and land use in the future.  That needs to be a focus going forward, because if you don't address that, the Barnegat Bay will continue to deteriorate so we have to get that under control."

Kennish says he's hopeful that with time and the proper steps in place the Barnegat Bay will improve, but he's also skeptical about financing.

"It's going to take millions of dollars to repair the damage that has been done here."

Kennish, who has published a multi-year study of the bay's ecosystems, says the waterway needs urgent attention. He says algae blooms and habitat losses are increasing.

Senate Environment Committee Chair Bob Smith says the Barnegat Bay has been an environmental disaster more than 30 years in the making.

“The Barnegat Bay is a major environmental asset for this region of the State, bringing in millions of dollars in tourism and eco-tourism each year,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset.

“Unless we’re willing to examine our impact on the bay’s ecosystem and do something about it, the water quality and sustainability of the bay will continue to deteriorate and deteriorate until it becomes a lifeless cesspool of pollution. We owe it to the residents of the shore and the thousands of people who flock to the Barnegat Bay each year for vacation to try to reverse course on decades of misuse and neglect.”