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What Would it Take to Re-Open a Hudson River Beach?

OHS-beach-samplers

Ossining High School teachers Artie Carlucci, a longtime Riverkeeper member, and Bridget Baumann, with their students at Ossining beach. Photo by Dan Shapley/Riverkeeper
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Ossining High School teachers Bridget Baumann (left) and Artie Carlucci (right), a longtime Riverkeeper member, with their students at Ossining's Hudson River beach. Photo by Dan Shapley/Riverkeeper

Ossining High School teachers Bridget Baumann (left) and Artie Carlucci (right), a longtime Riverkeeper member, with their students at Ossining’s Hudson River beach. (Photo by Dan Shapley/Riverkeeper)

Half a century ago, a floating dock at the Hudson River beach in Ossining was sunk, bringing to an end open-water swimming in the community and creating debris that has been perceived as a potential hazard to swimmers.

What would it take to re-open a beach on the Hudson River in Ossining?

A Hudson River Estuary Program study published 10 years ago identified Ossining as a potential new beach site, but one with “substantial barriers.”

Three of the barriers include concerns about water quality, underwater debris and expense.

The underwater debris question has now been answered. On April 25, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Police dive team held a training exercise at the beach at Louis Engel park, and found no evidence of debris from that 50-year-old floating dock. Riverkeeper played a role in coordinating the effort, which was supported by a large number of individuals and agencies, including not only the Croton dive team but the Town of Ossining, including its Supervisor Sue Donnelly and Parks and Recreation Department; the Village of Ossining Police and Fire departments; Ossining Boat and Canoe Club and SeaTow Central Hudson.

Divers from the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Police Department at the Ossining beach, during a training exercise and investigation of potential underwater hazards on April 25, 2015. Photo courtesy Henry Atterbury.

Divers from the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Police Department at the Ossining beach, during a training exercise and investigation of potential underwater hazards on April 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy Henry Atterbury)

The water quality question is also being addressed. Riverkeeper has sampled Ossining beach monthly during the recreational season since late 2006. Our data suggest water quality is often fit for swimming, but on occasion, and particularly after rain, fecal contamination has been measured above levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency—sometimes far exceeding those levels. Sewage and other fecal contamination is the leading cause of illness resulting from recreation in and on the water.

While the water quality is not perfect, it appears to be quite close to meeting federal safe-swimming criteria. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends sampling at least weekly to determine water quality at public bathing beaches, and that’s just what Ossining High School is now doing to help gather more information about water quality at this location.

Ossining High School has outfitted a lab with an IDEXX Enterolert system, the same that Riverkeeper uses for our water quality sampling. Riverkeeper is helping to train and facilitate the sampling project as it gets underway this summer. The lab equipment was paid for in part by money made available by New York State Sen. David Carlucci.

High-frequency sampling, coupled with information about rainfall, tides and other factors, could be sufficient to create a model that would predict when water quality is likely to meet federal safe-swimming guidelines, so the beach could be closed preemptively if conditions were likely to result in degraded water quality. Routine monitoring would confirm the validity of the model. Our data suggests water quality is frequently good after periods of dry weather, and that rain is more frequently associated with degraded water quality.

Another concern is community interest. Would the community support the expenses associated with sampling, lifeguards and improvements to the park facilities?

Time will tell, but the investment of time and effort by students from the high school will certainly help build public interest. One of the students told me about how excited her grandparents are that she’s taking part in the project. They used to swim at the beach in Ossining. And they’d like to again.

Students take a water sample from the beach at Louis Engel Park in Ossining. Photo by Dan Shapley/Riverkeeper.

Students take a water sample from the beach at Louis Engel Park in Ossining. (Photo by Dan Shapley/Riverkeeper)

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