News > News > River was kept in good hands

River was kept in good hands

Article as it appeared in the Journal News – March 2, 2010

In the decade that he has led Riverkeeper, Alex Matthiessen has been a tireless advocate for the health of the Hudson River. In an effort to make the river more swimmable and fishable, and to preserve the quality of the drinking water supply, Matthiessen has fought with polluters, tussled with many of the developers who build in the watershed, and taken on giants like Entergy, the owner of the Indian Point nuclear power plants. Matthiessen, who announced last week he was stepping down as executive director, spoke up when most others were transfixed by dollar signs.

Under Matthiessen’s direction Riverkeeper has also provided scientific data to the public that shed fresh light on environmental woes. One such area was a report on water quality from New York Harbor to Albany that was issued jointly by Riverkeeper and Columbia University in 2008. Those findings highlighted areas where sewage discharges caused high concentrations of bacteria, and provided data that is a valuable baseline for future comparisons. Now people can go to the Riverkeeper Web site for regular updates on the status of swimming in the river.

Since the river is impacted by the environment in the surrounding valley, anyone interested in preserving water quality has to look at the quality of life in the surrounding Hudson River Valley. In 2005, Matthiessen wrote a Community View on these pages regarding the environmental legacy of suburban sprawl.

“And as we spread ourselves across the landscape, we have become increasingly reliant on automobiles, which has led to more vehicle emissions and contributed to epidemic rates of asthma, bronchitis, heart and kidney disease, cancer, osteoporosis and numerous other ailments,” he wrote. “But sprawl’s impacts extend far beyond the environment. Sprawl diminishes our quality of life while substantially increasing our cost of living. Indeed, sprawl may be one of the single-biggest contributors to our society’s many ills, from traffic congestion, increased flooding and crime to obesity, alienation, failing schools and urban blight.”

Those who agree with Riverkeeper’s strategies and goals, and maybe even some of those who don’t, will acknowledge that under Matthiessen’s leadership Riverkeeper always put the environment first and, in that way, the organization stood up for all of us. We wish him well and look forward to the continuing strength of the organization under new leadership.

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