News > News > Water Quality > Results of Hudson River water quality tests highlight risk to swimmers from failure to adequately invest in clean water

Results of Hudson River water quality tests highlight risk to swimmers from failure to adequately invest in clean water

For Immediate Release

June 29, 2015
Contact: Leah Rae, Staff Writer
914-478-4501, Ext. 238

Riverkeeper calls on leaders to continue historic restoration of the Hudson by closing the $800 million funding gap for wastewater, and re-investing in enforcement of environmental laws.

OSSINING, NY — Fifty years after the passage of New York’s visionary Pure Waters Bond Act, Riverkeeper is publishing a report on water quality in the Hudson River Estuary and its watershed, and calling on state leaders to re-invest in clean water.

The 2015 “How’s the Water?” report includes analysis of more than 6,000 water samples gathered since 2008 in the Hudson River Estuary by Riverkeeper, CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; and data gathered since 2012 by dozens of community groups and individuals in Hudson River tributaries and at New York City water access points. Inspired by a question Riverkeeper often receives from people enjoying the Hudson – “How’s the water?” – the sampling effort is the largest of its kind in the Hudson River Watershed.

Water quality has improved dramatically since the passage of New York’s Pure Waters Bond Act 50 years ago, which catalyzed both statewide investments in clean water infrastructure and the passage of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Today, many parts of the Hudson River Estuary have water quality that would meet federal safe-swimming guidelines, particularly after periods of dry weather. However, water quality improvements are needed in many areas currently used by the public for recreation, particularly in tributaries and cities.

As measured against the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended guidelines for safe swimming:

  • 23% of Hudson River estuary samples failed.
  • 72% of Hudson River tributary samples failed.
  • 48% of New York City-area water access point samples failed.

Nationwide, public beaches failed the same benchmark at a rate of 10%. Sewage discharges from combined sewers, aging sewer infrastructure and failing septics, as well as agricultural and urban runoff are all believed to be contributing to water quality problems documented in this report.

“The Hudson River, and the creeks that feed it, are our beaches. From the Wallkill River to the Sparkill Creek to the boathouses of New York City, people are rallying to the cause of cleaning up our water. On their behalf, we’re challenging elected leaders to reinvest in both clean water infrastructure, and in the enforcement of our environmental laws,” said Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Manager.

To improve water quality, Riverkeeper has published a detailed Action Agenda, and is calling on the Governor and Legislature to act first on these two high priority items:

  • Increase funding for community grants via the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act to help close the $800 million gap in spending on wastewater infrastructure identified by the Comptroller’s Office.
  • Restore staff and budget for the Department of Environmental Conservation, which Governors and Legislatures have cut for years. Staff has declined 30% in the DEC’s Division of Water, over more than two decades. Meanwhile, the number of facilities in “significant non-compliance” of pollution discharge permits rose nearly 19% from 2010-2014, while the number of enforcement actions by the DEC fell over 64%, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

Riverkeeper’s “How’s the Water?” report is being mailed to elected leaders at the federal, state, county and municipal level; regulatory and non-regulatory agencies; scientists; advocacy groups; and many individuals, organizations and businesses who use the Hudson River recreationally. Each recipient is being asked to join the effort to address this problem.

The report, along with data gathered since the inception of the project up to and including samples gathered in 2015, can be found at

About the 2015 “How’s the Water?” Report
The “How’s the Water?” report analyzes the results of more than 6,000 water samples, assessed according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recreational Water Quality Criteria. The 2015 report includes several new sections:

  • Site-by-site results of tests for 1,485 water samples gathered by community scientists at 148 points in the Catskill, Esopus, Rondout and Sparkill creeks; the Wallkill and Pocantico Rivers; and New York City water access points.
  • New analysis of the influence of rain on water quality, based on analysis of more than 3,100 samples taken from the Hudson River Estuary, showing a pronounced negative effect, particularly in areas affected by combined sewer overflows, and in tributary creeks.
  • An outline of the potential sources of fecal contamination that affect our waters, ranging from combine sewer overflows and leaks and spills from aging sewers, to failing septic systems, agricultural and streetwater runoff, and wildlife.
  • A detailed Action Agenda, identifying a comprehensive set of priorities for all levels of government, as well as the scientific community, that would improve water quality and protect the health of people taking part in swimming and other recreation.
  • A list of successes that have resulted in part from publishing water quality data, including the creation of the $200 million Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015, the $25 million investment made in the first year of a 15-year Long Term Control Plan for reducing combined sewer overflows in the Capital District, and the recent formation of a new citizens group, the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, devoted to one of the Hudson’s largest tributaries.
  • A section outlining what individuals can do to help reduce pollution. Tips include avoiding flushing anything but toilet paper to avoid clogging sewers and causing overflows; and scheduling regular inspections and maintenance for privately owned septic systems.

About Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program
Riverkeeper samples for fecal contamination using Enterococcus (Entero), the only Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-recommended indicator for use in both fresh and salt waters. While Entero is not usually harmful, its presence indicates the presence of pathogens – viruses, bacteria, parasites – associated with sewage and/or other fecal contamination. This type of contamination causes as many as 3.5 million illnesses annually nationwide among recreational users of the water, according to an EPA estimate. (There is no surveillance and reporting for illnesses associated with recreational water use, so there are no estimates of illnesses resulting from recreation in the Hudson River Estuary or its tributaries.) Riverkeeper samples 74 locations in the Hudson River Estuary monthly in collaboration with CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Riverkeeper also supports community science sampling projects in tributaries and along shorelines. The 2015 report details results from samples taken at 148 points between 2012 and 2014. Partners in these community projects include the New York City Water Trail Association and The River Project, the Catskill Creek Watershed Awareness Project, the Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission, the Montgomery Conservation Advisory Council, the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, the Rochester Environmental Conservation Commission, the Rosendale Commission for Conservation of the Environment, Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance, Wawarsing Environmental Conservation Commission and many individuals, community boathouses, community groups, waterfront parks and labs.


Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.

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