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2019 victories for the Hudson and your drinking water

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Photo: Sampling the Sawkill

Riverkeeper achieved landmark environmental victories in 2019 – even as our federal government removed essential water protections. Working with our partners, we made meaningful strides in restoring the Hudson and helped communities protect their drinking water supplies. The challenges continue to mount and in 2020 we will again rise to meet them, thanks to an upwelling of support throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley. With your backing, we will beat the odds once again. Here is a sampling of our achievements:

Won a ban on plastic bags in NY. We successfully pressed for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags — and the measure goes into effect in March 2020. This is a big victory against plastic pollution. New York is now one of three states that refuse to let their rivers and streams be choked by this ubiquitous source of pollution.

Defended the Hudson against an ‘existential threat’ from storm surge barriers. Riverkeeper mobilized the public and won time, transparency and increased public engagement in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on storm surge barriers that threaten catastrophic harm to the Hudson River while leaving communities vulnerable to flooding.

Stopped a toxic incinerator ash dump in Catskill. We joined with community groups to defeat Wheelabrator’s proposal to turn an old quarry — just 2,500 feet from the Hudson River — into a dump for toxic incinerator ash and truck 445,000 tons of it annually to the site on small local roads.

Campaigned for NYS to ‘go big’ on clean water. We called upon NYS lawmakers to make a substantial commitment to clean water infrastructure in 2019, and they responded by securing another $500 million in grants for municipalities — for $3.5 billion since 2015. More than $450 million was approved for projects in the Hudson River watershed during 2018 alone.

Helped communities protect their drinking water supplies. We helped Newburgh, Ossining and Peekskill use the Riverkeeper ‘Scorecard’ to better protect their drinking water supplies, which collectively serve 178,000 people. And we continued to work with the Hudson 7 communities to protect the river from threats ranging from coal tar to crude oil, protecting a drinking water supply that serves 100,000 people.

Protected Menhaden from overfishing. Riverkeeper lobbied for a state law that targets overfishing for Atlantic menhaden by banning the use of enormous purse seine nets in state waters. We also mobilized the public against overfishing in Chesapeake Bay on behalf of this essential forage fish and held the fish oil industry accountable for exceeding their harvest limits. After strong public appeals to protect Atlantic menhaden, the Department of Commerce declared a moratorium on fishing them from Virginia waters, upholding a finding by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that Virginia had not implemented a Chesapeake Bay harvest cap.

Sawkill team in the lab.Fostered clean water investment on the Wallkill. We backed $36 million in investment for clean water projects along this large Hudson River tributary, and got a state commitment to develop a comprehensive cleanup plan. Such successes are playing out throughout the estuary: Our Rondout Creek Watershed Alliance partners helped make the case for a $6 million investment to improve water quality.

Backed climate action in NYS. We pushed for New York’s groundbreaking Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the nation’s strongest climate legislation. It establishes aggressive mandates to ensure New York achieves a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction — with 100 percent carbon neutrality — by 2050. While CLCPA could have gone further to ensure fairness and equity for environmental justice communities, a proportion of its energy and climate investments will be made in these areas.

Pushed back against the EPA’s “certification” of General Electric’s PCB cleanup. Riverkeeper and our partners refuse to accept EPA’s “Certification of Completion” for GE’s still unfinished Superfund cleanup of toxic PCBs in the Hudson River. We’re supporting New York State’s legal fight to get GE to resume cleanup activities and pushing for their expansion to the lower Hudson.

Achieved first cleanup action for PFAS in Newburgh. We advocated for the Department of Defense to install a treatment system to filter toxic firefighting foam chemicals flowing from Stewart Air National Guard base. That system is finally in place — a long-overdue first step in treating the source of pollution that contaminated Washington Lake reservoir and forced Newburgh to switch to alternative drinking water supplies.

Iona Island SweepOur biggest Sweep yet. A record 2,400 volunteers joined 122 shoreline cleanup projects from NYC to the Adirondacks. We removed over 31 tons of debris, including nearly 3 tons of recyclables and over 300 tires. We also facilitated nine additional shoreline cleanups with corporate and community partners. Plus, the data we gather about shoreline waste is helping to drive state and local policies to reduce the use of single-use plastics.

Backed new regulations for striped bass fishing. We urged the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to tighten striped bass fishing regulations as the fishery is in decline coastwide. New size regulations will soon be in place and augmented by a requirement for anglers to use circle hooks to reduce the high rate of dead discards. These regulations will go a long way to create a sustainable fishery and balanced ecosystem.

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