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Coal Tar and Crude Oil: Milestones in protecting the Hudson River drinking water source

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Hudson 7

In a sign of its resilience, the Hudson 7 has continued to meet regularly via video conference during the pandemic.

May 31 marked the second anniversary of formation of the Hudson River Drinking Water Intermunicipal Council, which focuses on protecting the Hudson River as the source of drinking water for more than 100,000 people. Better known as the Hudson 7, the council is made up of elected officials from the City and Town of Poughkeepsie, the Village and Town of Rhinebeck, and the towns of Esopus, Hyde Park and Lloyd.

Building on an already impressive set of accomplishments, the Hudson 7’s approach to proactively protecting the river was exemplified by milestones in the last year associated with two types of toxic pollution: coal tar and crude oil.

Hudson 7 Coal Tar

A rainbow sheen from coal tar was observed in December 2018, demonstrating that the remediation project had to be redesigned to protect nearby drinking water intakes. (Photo courtesy Scenic Hudson)

Coal Tar: Central Hudson is under order by the Department of Environmental Conservation to remove several acres of coal tar on the river bottom that was dumped from a long-defunct manufactured gas plant. The important river cleanup, however, was not designed sufficiently to protect nearby drinking water intakes, particularly for the largest of the region’s Hudson River treatment plants at Poughkeepsie. Poughkeepsie, with help from the Hudson 7 and Riverkeeper, raised concerns, critiqued models meant to predict the potential for pollutants to affect drinking water intakes. The result? Central Hudson is redesigning the project to be more protective, at an additional estimated cost of at least $17 million. The next few months will be important to determine what additional modifications of those plans will be needed, as the anticipated start to the cleanup approaches in Fall 2020.

Hudson 7 Crude Oil

A tanker full of crude oil passes near Hudson River drinking water intakes. (Photo by Riverkeeper).

Crude Oil: Federal and state agencies are responsible for coordinating plans to prevent and respond to spills of crude oil and other hazardous materials in the Hudson River Estuary. For about a decade, Riverkeeper has worked with those agencies to focus attention on the unique risks that such a spill would pose for the health of the Hudson River. The public’s concerns about the potential for such a spill were heightened in 2011 and 2012, when petroleum industry began transporting crude oil in high volumes on and along the Hudson River, and in 2016, when the shipping industry proposed establishing anchorages that could have been used to increase the volume of petroleum shipped on the Hudson. In January 2020, for the first time, Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Conservation spill response representatives met directly with the leadership of the Hudson 7, to learn more about the use of the river as a drinking water source, with the intent to improve spill prevention and response plans. It was a historic meeting, the impact of which will be realized in years to come.

Riverkeeper helped the Hudson 7 communities to organize, and continues to partner closely with this influential council, with staff serving in coordination and advisory roles. We look forward to many milestones to come toward our shared goal of preserving and protecting the Hudson River. To learn more, visit

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