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March 22, 2013 marked the 20th Anniversary of World Water Day, created by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993 as an international day to celebrate and raise awareness about fresh water. Riverkeeper and members of the HSBC Water Programme, which recently awarded a major grant to support Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Water Quality Program, honored the day with a first-hand look at some of the challenges that still face the river, and waterways worldwide.
For nearly 50 years, Riverkeeper has been dedicated to improving our local waterways, and with the help of countless partners we’ve made great progress. Riverkeeper has brought hundreds of polluters to justice, ending the most egregious industrial pollution that once choked the river, and ushering in a renaissance for communities throughout the region.
One lingering problem is the sewage pollution that continues to foul the estuary, creating conditions that, according to Riverkeeper’s groundbreaking water quality study, are unsafe for swimming far more often than at the average U.S. beach. New York City alone discharges 27 billion gallons of raw or partially treated combined storm water and sewage into our waterways each year. (Through a landmark 2012 agreement, Riverkeeper helped secure the city’s commitment to reduce this pollution load by 1.5 billion gallons by 2030.) Riverkeeper’s water quality study, begun in 2006, aims to increase our understanding of where and when sewage contaminates the Hudson River and its tributaries, and to raise public awareness about the pollution that continues to keep us from achieving the fishable, swimmable waters envisioned in the Clean Water Act of 1972.
A tour of the award-winning digester “eggs” at Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (pictured) captivated the attention of HSBC Water Programme members, as we learned how the eggs function like giant human stomachs responsible for processing as much as 1.5 million gallons of sewage sludge every day. Can a sewage plant be inspiring? Yes! Plants such as this remind us that investment in infrastructure plays a vital role in protecting our waterways.
After a lunchtime talk by Tracy Brown, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Advocate, and Ray Johnson, HSBC Program Manager for Corporate Sustainability, we headed north to Socrates Sculpture Park at Hallet’s Cove in Queens. Braving the 40 degree weather, HSBC employee volunteers removed more than a dozen bags of trash that had accumulated along the shore following Superstorm Sandy last fall. The park hosts several community-based events each year and Hallet’s Cove is the place to go for free walk-up paddling offered by the Long Island City Community Boathouse and Socrates Sculpture Park each summer. Thanks to the help of 25 HSBC Water Programme volunteers, the beach is safer for both humans and animals, and the estimated 450 pounds of trash we removed is no longer at risk of becoming suspended into the East River.
The hands-on work reminded participants that technology and infrastructure are only part of the solution: We need people power to clean and restore our waterways.
Interested in volunteering with Riverkeeper? Join us on May 11 for the Riverkeeper Sweep, our day of service for the Hudson River, featuring more than 65 shoreline cleanups from New York City to Albany.