Blogs > Water Quality > Good News for Newburgh – and the Hudson River

Good News for Newburgh – and the Hudson River

Newburgh

Photo: Daniel Case via CC

The trend in Hudson River water quality at Newburgh’s public boat launch is improving, thanks to the city’s actions to find and eliminate sources of raw sewage that had been reaching the Hudson – and the routine water quality monitoring that both identified the problem and documented the improvement.

Riverkeeper and our partners at CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have now gathered 10 years of data, monthly from May through October, at 74 locations in the Hudson River Estuary between New York Harbor and the Capital District. This year, while we gather the 11th year of data, we will look back at some of the most interesting and significant findings from this unique 10-year dataset, which includes more than 21,000 samples to measure water quality in the river and its tributaries.

From 2008-2014, 61% of samples exceeded safe swimming benchmarks set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From 2015-2017, just 21% exceeded that same threshold. Moreover, the “average” concentration (geometric mean) of bacteria dropped 73% (from 125 to 33) after 2014. Water quality that had been persistently unsafe at a public access point is now meeting or very near to meeting safe-swimming criteria set by the EPA.

How did this happen?

In May 2014, Riverkeeper called for an investigation of water quality, based on persistently poor results in dry weather. While Newburgh — like many other river cities — relies on combined sewers that we know overflow when it rains, sewage should not be leaking during dry weather. The city began investigating, with oversight and ultimately grant support from the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. Almost immediately the city started to find and correct problems, and has so far found at least eight illicit connections that had effectively connected the toilets of buildings, and even a neighborhood, directly to the river, rather than the sewage treatment plant. The city has also made improvements throughout its sewer system to reduce combined sewer overflows, and these improvements will continue under a Long Term Control Plan, the Clean Water Act mandate to reduce combined sewer overflows, ultimately, by 100 million gallons per year. (Our latest sample, taken this month, showed elevated bacteria, a reminder that work isn’t done.)

The positive trend in water quality is good news for two reasons: One, it shows that it works to conduct longterm monitoring, and notify the public when water quality fails to meet our standards. Two, it shows that the diligence of Newburgh in recent years has made the Hudson cleaner. If Newburgh can do it, so can other communities.

When we talk about wastewater infrastructure, this is what we’re talking about – new sewer lines, new force mains, new pump stations. In the end, they are all synonyms for clean water.

Since New York State approved the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act in 2015 and the landmark $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act in 2017, at least $500 million has been committed, by all levels of government, to upgrading wastewater systems in the Hudson River Watershed. We can expect these investments to improve water quality, as they have in Newburgh.

Riverkeeper will analyze data from six samples at the Newburgh boat launch this year, and more than 5,200 overall, each collected by Riverkeeper or our partners throughout the Hudson River watershed. You can help fund this work by becoming a Riverkeeper member or renewing your Riverkeeper membership:

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