Better monitoring of water quality is needed to understand the health of the river, to track down specific causes of exceedences, and to enable regulators to inform the public with more timely and accurate information.
There is little testing, or modeling and prediction, for sewage contamination in the Hudson River Estuary. Of the ten counties on the estuary, only four test for sewage contamination at their shorelines (Westchester, Rockland, Ulster and Dutchess), and that testing is limited in scope and frequency. None of these report their findings to the public.
Despite this lack of critical data, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has classified Hudson River waters from north of the Bronx Borough line all the way to the northern end of Columbia County as acceptable for swimming. Without water quality data, pollution sources and impacts cannot be identified. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is required to monitor and conduct surveillance of permitted beaches in the City of New York. DOHMH monitors and samples each beach on a weekly basis. When beach water quality status changes occur, DOHMH notifies the public by on-site postings, website postings, through 311 (non emergency government service hotline), and on occasion through DOHMH press releases. Beach operators are also notified by phone and/or email for on-site postings.
The NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) conducts an extensive water quality survey for New York Harbor including bacteriological surveys. This data is analyzed and released periodically to the public in a water quality report. It is collected as part of a historical record reaching back into the early 1900s and provides very valuable information on the long-term trends in NY Harbor water quality.
The NYCDEP New York Harbor Water Quality Report includes primarily seasonally and spatially averaged data. Limitations to this report are the delay in release (typically more than a 1-year lag time) and the lack of raw (or daily count) data to evaluate patterns of smaller spatial and temporal scale variation.
In the fall of 2011 NYCDEP made a great stride towards providing more complete and timely access to their water quality data by creating an online water quality advisory section on the NYC.gov website. In the new section they now post single sample data and water quality advisories that include wet weather releases from CSOs as well as accidental and planned releases. If you plan to recreate in the waters around NYC you should visit this site for any possible advisory that day NYC Water Quality Advisory website.
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) requires that coastal and Great Lake states report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on beach monitoring and notification data for their coastal recreation waters. (See “Federal Water Quality Guidelines” below).
The waters of the Hudson River Estuary north of New York City marine beaches are not covered by the BEACH Act and therefore are not tested by the state for recreational use.
The EPA is currently working on new Recreational Water Quality Criteria that may expand the definition of waterways covered by the BEACH Act to include the Hudson River Estuary. New York State needs to update our state water quality standards to meet the criteria set by the EPA, both the existing 1986 criteria and the upcoming criteria when it is released.
Federal water quality guidelines for recreational waters allow for infrequent monitoring at public beaches (as little as 5 samples collected over 90 days) and the averaging of water quality data to arrive at “seasonal average.” This approach to water quality monitoring is not sufficient to protect public health – no one swims in an average, they swim at a specific location at a specific time.