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State of the Hudson and our water supply

Fifty years after its founding, Riverkeeper fights alongside thousands of citizen scientists and activists to reclaim the Hudson and ensure that over 9 million New Yorkers have clean, safe drinking water.

Pollution levels are down, and swimming and boating are back. Riverkeeper even inspired a worldwide “waterkeeper” movement protecting tens of thousands of miles of rivers and coastlines on six continents.

But the Hudson’s recovery is still fragile, still incomplete. Our fish remain too toxic to eat; pollution levels spike with every rainfall. Mammoth cuts in government spending and enforcement threaten to reverse a half-century of water quality gains. And, Riverkeeper is being tested like never before, as a new generation of Hudson River activists face up to the challenges of antiquated power plants, a massive rise in dangerous crude oil shipments, climate change and emerging toxic pollutants.

In the face of the many challenges still facing the Hudson and our water supply, Riverkeeper’s vision for the future remains clear.

  • The Hudson and its tributaries, made safe for swimming, fishing and boating;
  • Clean, abundant drinking water for all;
  • Healthy, thriving aquatic ecosystems;
  • Sustainable, climate-friendly energy supplies;
  • Empowered communities, protecting and enjoying local water resources.

The state of the Hudson and our drinking water supplies

Fifty years ago, the modern environmental movement was born around the battle to save Storm King mountain from an ill-conceived power generation project eventually abandoned for its inefficiency and the harm it would have caused to the Hudson and those who live near it. For decades after the Storm King battle, the commitment to clean water, air and sustainability gained ground, cutting US water pollution in half and giving our fisheries a fighting chance for recovery. Despite these successes, our present commitment to clean water is uneven, at best.

  • Staffing at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) has dropped nearly 30%, from 4,150 in 1994 to only 2,946 today. EPA has suffered similar cuts.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, Clean Water Act enforcement by New York State dropped 65%; at the same time, the number of facilities in “significant” non-compliance with clean water standards rose 20%;
  • 23% of the Hudson River water quality samples taken by Riverkeeper fail federal safe swimming standards. So do 72% of the samples we take on the Hudson’s tributaries and 48% of samples taken at on-water recreation sites in the New York City metro area. There are an estimated 6,500 swimmers at over 150 locations on the Hudson. EPA estimates that 3.5 million Americans contract water borne illnesses while swimming, fishing or boating.
  • More than 315 wastewater infrastructure investment projects await funding, at a total cost of $5.9 billion, in the Hudson Valley and New York City, alone. Statewide, New York has $31.4 billion in needed wastewater infrastructure projects – not even California, with twice NY’s population, must invest that much.
  • New York City’s water supply has tested positive for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). The adverse effects on aquatic organisms caused by hormones and endocrine disruptors found in PPCPs are well documented, and, while levels in City water are low, no standards have been set for safe human exposure to these compounds. Yet, New York City discontinued testing for these compounds in 2010.
  • Nine out of 13 key indicator species of Hudson River fish are in decline, due to habitat degradation, ocean by-catch and other factors. Several species seem headed for extinction, here on the Hudson.
  • Crude oil transport by rail rose 4,000% between 2009 and 2013, despite over a dozen major accidents and the lack of safe railcars to handle over 80% of these shipments. Albany is one of the nation’s most active hubs for these shipments, which threaten to undo decades worth of clean water gains along the Hudson. Two new petroleum-carrying pipelines and three major natural gas pipelines are proposed to cross the Hudson in the coming years.
  • The Indian Point nuclear power facility, located 45 miles from midtown Manhattan, had over a dozen mishaps and seven unplanned shutdowns in 2015. It is the nation’s only nuclear plant operating without a current license.

The Hudson deserves better. Our drinking water supplies deserve better. Here’s Riverkeeper’s plan to do better:

  • Increase grants to localities for water infrastructure projects to $800 million each year, which will leverage local spending sufficient to eliminate current water investment backlogs by 2020.
  • Restore DEC staffing and clean water law enforcement levels; eliminate all cases of significant non-compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2020. Establish total maximum daily pollution limits for all impaired waters and aggressively attack combined sewer overflow and stormwater pollution.
  • Sample water quality at least weekly at public beaches and river pools. Expand testing in other waters designated for primary contact recreation, and post the data online immediately.
  • Cut the length and speed of trains carrying crude oil along the Hudson and require carriers to maintain insurance or bonding for the full cost of cleanup in case the next accident is here on the Hudson. Reject the unneeded new fossil fuel pipelines proposed to run through the Hudson Valley.
  • Resume testing for pharmaceuticals and personal care products and develop regulatory standards for PPCPs in municipal drinking water supplies. Require retrofitting of lead-soldered plumbing in households and schools reporting lead exceedances.
  • Restore riverine ecosystems through wetlands restoration; removal of unneeded dams; invasive species interdiction programs; and, re-establishment of oyster reefs and diverse habitats such as historic river channels.
  • Close the Indian Point nuclear power plant. It’s no longer needed and, having experienced more recent unplanned shutdowns, accidents and damage to core components than any other US nuclear facility, it’s demonstrably unsafe.
  • As in the case of Rockland County, which received $250,000 in water conservation plan funding in the 2016-2017 state budget, provide assistance to all counties to develop smart, sustainable water supply management plans offering collateral benefits like enhanced habitat preservation and improved stormwater control.

New York has come too far to turn back from the cause of clean drinking water, healthy riverine ecosystems and safe places to swim, fish and boat. Riverkeeper will pursue the action agenda outlined above through activism, lobbying, sampling, litigation, cleanups and restoration work, and any other strategy that will get the job done. Most importantly, Riverkeeper will remain “locally owned,” and attuned to the needs of communities, human and otherwise, for which the Hudson River and our water supplies are among the most precious of resources.

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