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River advocates call on NYS leaders to include Wallkill in Harmful Algal Bloom Initiative


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Toxic algae affected 30 miles of the Wallkill River in 2016

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper, [email protected] or 845-797-2158
Jason West, Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, [email protected] or 845-532-7584

Riverkeeper and the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance are calling on state leaders to include the Wallkill River in a recently announced initiative to address Harmful Algal Blooms in New York State.

The groups made the request in letters to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and state Legislators, including all representatives of the Wallkill River Watershed: Senator George A. Amedore, Jr.; Senator John J. Bonacic; Assemblyman Karl Brabenec; Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill; Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther; Senator William J. Larkin, Jr.; Assemblyman Brian D. Miller; and Assemblyman James Skoufis.

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Director, said: “No river in New York State has suffered from Harmful Algal Blooms to the degree that the Wallkill River has in recent years. Now is the time to build on the progress made collaboratively with grassroots groups, municipalities and the Department of Environmental Conservation to understand what ails the Wallkill and bring it back to health.”

Jason West, President of the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, said: “Toxic algae – like the kind we’ve seen in the Wallkill – can cause gastrointestinal and neurological damage in people. And Harmful Algae Blooms are a growing threat not only to to our health, but to our economy as well, as water-focused businesses and drinking water supplies are threatened. We saw this first hand just two years ago when 30 miles of our river turned bright green, forcing us to stay away from the river for months.”

This Harmful Algal Blooms initiative, announced by Gov. Cuomo as part of his 2018 State of the State address, would spend $65 million statewide to understand the underlying causes of, and identify solutions to prevent future Harmful Algal Blooms. The initiative, as announced, would target 12 priority waterbodies statewide. Riverkeeper and Wallkill River Watershed Alliance are requesting the Wallkill River to be added as a priority.

The Wallkill River runs for just under 90 miles, and is one arm of the largest tributary to the Hudson River Estuary. In 2015 and 2016, the Wallkill River experienced Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) documented by citizen data with confirmation by the DEC. While the cyanobacteria associated with HABs are a natural part of the river ecosystem, underlying conditions such as nutrient pollution can cause a proliferation that creates a blanket of bright green algae that produces toxins. These toxins can cause illnesses, ranging from skin rashes and stomach ailments in humans to death in dogs and livestock.

Anecdotal evidence suggests blooms also occurred in previous years, but were not documented. The 2016 bloom was severe, affecting 30 miles of the river for as many as 60 days, affecting 10 towns and villages in Orange and Ulster Counties.

Recreational uses of the river were impaired during the bloom. A private beach closed, a small business suspended kayak tours and rentals, public paddles were canceled, and the DEC posted signs at boating and fishing access sites warning the public about risks of exposure to the water. Use of the water for irrigation was a concern for many farmers and gardeners who irrigate with river water. The Wallkill River bloom in 2016 also affected a portion of the Rondout Creek downstream of the confluence of the Wallkill, which is part of the Hudson River public water supply “source waters,” as identified by the Department of Health. More than 100,000 people rely on drinking water from the Hudson in Port Ewen, Rhinebeck, Highland, Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie.

The Wallkill River Watershed Alliance and Riverkeeper have collaborated with the Department of Environmental Conservation on water sampling and other initiatives to collaboratively understand underlying causes of Harmful Algal Blooms in the Wallkill River. Many municipalities have expressed support for watershed-based planning to identify priority projects to improve water quality.


About Riverkeeper
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. Since its beginnings more than 50 years ago, Riverkeeper has helped to establish globally recognized standards for waterway and watershed protection and serves as the model and mentor for the growing Waterkeeper movement that includes more than 300 Keeper programs around the globe. Visit us at and follow us @Riverkeeper.

About Wallkill River Watershed Alliance
Established in 2015, the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance is committed to making the Wallkill swimmable, fishable, and ecologically healthy for present and future generations. Visit us at and follow us at

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