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Thank you for telling the true story of water recreation in NYC!

An interactive map helped Riverkeeper show New York State where and how people enjoy saline waters – and why stronger water quality standards are essential.

New York State residents have documented more than 280,000 distinct uses of New York City’s coastal waters, including kayaking, dragon boating, swimming, and more, as part of a call for stronger water quality standards.

The data were submitted to New York State through an interactive map developed by Pratt Institute Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative in partnership with Riverkeeper and Save the Sound, and with support from the NY-NJ Harbor and Estuary Program.

As the state Department of Environmental Conservation works to revise water quality standards based in part on how people use the water, we worked to bring to life the recreational uses of New York State waters and their importance to New York City and Hudson River communities. The mapping project is part of a larger advocacy effort by Riverkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Sound and the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic to urge New York State to set new water quality standards for the waters in and around New York City. Your submissions helped us share the true story of Hudson River saline water use, to help inform better regulations for these coastal waters. Stronger water quality standards must be set to make the saline waters healthier for recreation and ecology.

Now you can explore the results yourself by viewing a series of New York State Water Use Maps (developed by Pratt SAVI), above. To better understand the maps and their context, you can also view a toolkit, below, to guide you through the current New York State water classifications.

The saline waters of New York State include some of the most iconic waterways in the nation – from the Hudson River and Long Island Sound to New York-New Jersey Harbor and the Atlantic Coast. Even its most notoriously troubled waters, like Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Coney Island Creek and Flushing Creek, are beloved by the communities that are championing their recovery. Public swim events, oyster restoration projects, dragon boat festivals and other activities signify the sea change in public’s perception and use of these waters over the last generation.

In some ways, these uses harken back to a time a century and more ago, when our urban shorelines were dotted with access for swimming. Fifty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, these waterways have improved – some significantly more than others – making it possible to imagine a not-far-off future where in-water recreation is again commonly accessible and a widely enjoyed part of living and visiting New York City and its suburbs, contributing to quality of life and economic well-being.

And yet these same waters are all still challenged by hundreds of combined sewer overflows (“CSOs”) from New York City and Westchester County, by aging and leaking sanitary sewer infrastructure and stormwater runoff from the most densely populated area of the country; by degraded freshwater rivers and creeks upstream, and by both legacy and novel contaminants. The most appropriate way to protect and improve the quality of New York’s Saline waters is to continue pursuing the designated uses approved by United States Environmental Protection Agency, requiring all saline waters to meet primary contact standards, along with the establishment of variances where justified.

The widespread documentation of where and how the public use the water adds weight to several important arguments:

People enjoy these waters frequently and through many forms of recreation.

New York must meet the “swimmable” and “fishable” goals of the Clean Water Act. Water quality is an Environmental Justice issue. The current poor water quality standards imperil the health and well-being of New Yorkers, stripping recreational opportunities away, especially for people of color and low-income communities.

DEC needs to regulate the 20 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows released into our waterways every year to ensure the safety and health of residents recreating on the waters, opening up more recreational opportunities for the future.

Thank you for helping us advocate for clean water safe for recreation in Hudson River saline waters. Please sign up for email updates to stay informed.

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