There are solutions available to us today that will measurably improve water quality in the Hudson River. Riverkeeper’s Swimmable River report addresses the water quality challenges facing the river today and puts forth a three-prong strategy to solving these problems:
Increased monitoring and notification 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.
Investment in wastewater infrastructure is needed to ensure the lasting protection of water quality.
Better water quality policies are needed to improve the quality of treatment and overall water management.
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.
(1) Develop a uniform system of pathogen monitoring within the Hudson River Estuary that tests water quality based on spatial and geographical, and not political, boundaries.
(2) Increase wet weather monitoring at problem locations.
(3) Develop testing protocols that are spike-driven and based on extremes, not merely averages. The EPA single sample maximum of 104cfu/100ml Enterrococci used at beaches and other coastal recreation waters should be employed throughout the estuary. EPA considers the single sample maximum level to be “especially important for beaches and other recreation waters that are infrequently monitored or prone to short-term spikes in bacteria concentrations, e.g., water that may be affected by combined sewer overflow outfalls.”
(4) NYSDEC should list the entire Hudson River estuary as impaired for pathogens. This will lead to the development of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) guidelines which can then be incorporated into Clean Water Act permits as binding, numeric discharge limits.
Better public notification of water quality exceedences is needed so that the public can make more educated decisions about recreational uses of our waterways.
(1) Estuarywide notification systems should be based on single sample measurements, or other data that can capture short-term or localized problems, not just averages. In terms of public notification of dangerous conditions, closing an access point or an entire waterbody to recreational use based only on average levels may unnecessarily expose the public to pathogens, unnecessarily restrict public access, or do both if the notice or closure is not coincident with a given pathogen spike.
(2) All municipalities with CSOs entering the Hudson River estuary should provide timely and location-specific water quality monitoring results for all relevant pollution parameters.
(3) The government’s computer modeling should be based on actual data collected. NYCDEP should compare additional data (including the results from this study) to model predictions. In turn, models should be developed to include short-term or extreme conditions so that short-term forecasts [the models do provide this – but nothing is done with the hour-by-hour modeling projections in terms of driving management decisions] can be used together with single sample data for public notification.
(4) New York State and municipalities should develop better public notification systems: a broadcasted form of public notification, incorporating broadcast meteorologists on TV, radio, and online, public service announcements, 311 interface systems, and/or an email alert system that notifies the public of CSO events. Durable and understandable public notification systems should also be installed at the shoreline, especially at outfalls near public access points.
Better wastewater treatment infrastructure is needed to ensure the lasting protection of water quality.
(1) Establish a Clean Water Trust Fund. Such a fund would bridge the major gap between needs and availability and ensure that counties and municipalities have a reliable, steady source of funding to address water infrastructure needs. A dedicated Clean Water Trust Fund would establish the equitable distribution of funds across the board, regardless of a community’s size or location.
(2) Pass the Federal Water Quality Financing Act. The Water Quality Financing Act (H.R.720) seeks to amend the Clean Water Act to authorize appropriations for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund program in the total amount of $14 billion over a four-year period. This legislation also requires that a study be conducted into potential funding mechanisms and sources of revenue for a Clean Water Trust Fund. H.R. 720 was passed in the House of Representatives. This legislation does not have a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
(3) Pass the Federal Water Quality Investment Act. The Water Quality Investment Act (H.R.569/S.836) seeks to amend the Clean Water Act to authorize appropriations for sewer overflow control grants in the amount of $1.7 billion over a five-year period. H.R. 569 passed in the House of Representatives; the Senate has not passed a companion bill.
(4) Ensure ultraviolet disinfection at wastewater treatment plants.
(5) Require all stormwater management systems to incorporate green infrastructure in an effort to reduce flows into treatment systems. As wet weather events are the primary trigger behind pathogenic overflows into our waterways, there must be a focus on reducing the amount of water that gets into the systems in the first place. This entails capturing stormwater and putting it to use where it falls in such features as street trees, parks, green roofs and the use of porous pavement in area parking lots. These are cost-effective systems that can be used in conjunction with, or sometimes in lieu of, hard infrastructure. An increasing number of municipalities, from New York City to Albany, are merging green design into stormwater control and CSO control requirements under federal and state law. All agencies, whether at the municipal, state, or federal levels, should implement a policy of incorporating Best Managment Practices into the design of all public projects with the goal of maximizing the use of on-site retention, detention, and infiltration techniques to reduce stormwater discharges. For more information, read Riverkeeper’s “Sustainable Raindrops” report from 2006.
(6) Prevent Increases in CSO Discharges and Evaluate Potential for Eliminating Existing CSO Discharges to Sensitive Areas. As required by EPA’s CSO Control Policy, municipalities should give highest priority to controlling overflows to sensitive areas by prohibiting increased overflows to these areas (i.e. from new developments) and eliminating or relocating overflows that discharge to these areas.
(7) Develop and Implement A Stormwater Disposal Rate on Sewer Bills. A comprehensive statewide program should restructure sewer rates in order to have two rates: the estimated volume of stormwater discharged into combined sewer systems, and the estimated volume of raw sewage discharged. A more accurate rate than what currently exists would create an incentive to capture stormwater and lead to more equitable accounting.
(8) Enforce against failing facilities. The Clean Water Act and other environmental laws that require pollution control should be fully enforced, acting to deter future mismanagement and ensure environmental and public health protection.
(9) Require implementation of Long-Term Control Plans for all municipalities with CSOs and design infrastructure to accommodate increased amount and intensity of rainfall expected regionally due to the effects of climate change.
Better water quality policies are needed to improve the quality of treatment and overall water management.
(1) Renew New York’s pledge for a Swimmable Hudson River estuary. In 2004, Governor Pataki publicly called for a commitment by New York State to reach the Clean Water Act’s goals of having a fishable and swimmable Hudson. This pledge should be renewed and pragmatic steps towards achieving this goal should be outlined.
(2) Create cohesive water quality protection policies for the region. New York State should integrate and align water quality protection policies for the entire Hudson River estuarine system – New York Harbor, the Lower Hudson, Long Island Sound, and the New York Bight and its watersheds – with those in other plans developed by New York City and other governmental organizations including: the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program, the Long Island Sound Study, the Hudson River Estuary Program, and involving those municipalities with approved Waterfront Revitalization Plans.
(3) Increase protection for key wetlands and buffer zones. New York State and its municipalities should strengthen classification of and protection for local wetlands and other buffer areas that filter pollution and green our waterfront areas. Currently, New York’s Freshwater Wetlands Law only protects freshwater wetlands that are 12.4 acres or larger, or those that have been designated by the New York State Department of Conservation as being of “unusual, local importance.” Most wetlands smaller than 12.4 acres used to be protected under federal law. But today, they are no longer guaranteed protections due to recent federal rollbacks to the Clean Water Act.
(4) Water conservation should be made a key focus of all water supply strategies. New York State should consider a holistic approach to water conservation in an effort to reduce the amount of wastewater that must be treated. When there is less wastewater entering the combined sewer system, CSO discharges into the Hudson River are reduced.
(5) Classify kayaking and personal watercraft usage as “primary contact” recreational uses. These recreational uses bring users into direct contact with water and differ from other waterborne recreational uses, such as sailing and power boating, where users generally do not come into contact with water. These latter uses are characterized as “secondary contact.” Currently, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation deem kayaking and personal watercraft usage as “secondary” contact. An appropriate designation as primary contact recreational use would be consistent with the plain language of NYS regulations, as well as EPA’s policy and that of other states. EPA’s CSO Control Policy requires that all areas currently used for ‘primary contact’ recreation be treated as “sensitive areas” in the CSO Long Term Control Plan process. Such classification would more sensibly guide municipalities towards more stringent water quality goals, consistent with actual uses. Every municipality in the Hudson Valley should hold public hearings to obtain input from a variety of stakeholder groups who recreate on the river and its waterfront areas.
(6) Increase interagency and intra-agency communication. Watershed planning decisions should include all relevant local, state, and federal agencies to ensure continuity and a more comprehensive approach. Planning decisions should incorporate officials within agencies that are tasked with protecting waterbodies, managing sewer systems, evaluating development proposals, and making budget recommendations. These agency officials should, in turn, be in consistent communication with others in their respective departments. Often, agencies in charge of developing Long-Term Control Plans share jurisdiction with other agencies (i.e. those who have budgetary control over given projects) and yet do not coordinate fully with these other agencies. All interested departments and agencies should be included. In New York City, the Best Management Practice (“BMP”) Task Force created by PlaNYC is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when information is shared across a wider spectrum.
(7) Deem all areas where swimming and fishing are occurring as sensitive, whether or not the area is formally designated for those uses. Waterfront areas that are known or planned to be frequently used for public access should be deemed sensitive areas and given high priority in terms of planning and CSO control, regardless of whether such areas are formally designated as beaches or officially recognized as access points.
(8) Focus monitoring and notification procedures on extreme conditions in addition to averages. Despite reporting guidelines that only require analysis of mean, or average, conditions, the public is recreating in a variety of conditions at specific times and locations. Simply stated, the public is not swimming in averages, but in the highs and lows of water quality parameters. Thus, the extremes are most important in terms of protecting public health.
(9) Establish new public-private partnerships to help create a sound scientific foundation for water quality management decisions. These partnerships need to be specifically focused on sampling for sewage indication bacteria such as Enterococcus, in order to better inform decision making on the part of the public and government agencies responsible for environmental and public health protection.
(10) Pass the Federal Beach Protection Act. This Act would reauthorize the federal BEACH Act of 2000 and provide for increased funding of grants aimed at indentifying pollution sources and remediating existing problems.
(11) Pass the Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right to Know Act. This Act seeks to amend the Clean Water Act to require operators of sewage treatment plants to develop a notification system to alert local health officials and the public-at-large of sewer overflows within twenty-four hours.