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Updated Hudson River Water Quality Site Goes Live for Memorial Day

water quality and swimming in the Hudson

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Riverkeeper’s Updated Hudson River Water Quality Site Goes Live for Memorial Day
Provides access to water quality findings for 150 miles of the Hudson River

Tarrytown, NY – May 27, 2010 — Riverkeeper has launched an updated version of its Water Quality Testing Online Database featuring a new and improved design for reviewing water quality data using Google Maps. Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Testing Program is the only program that regularly tests for sewage contamination levels as well as other water quality indicators throughout the Hudson River Estuary and posts the data online within days of sampling. The first Hudson River sampling results for the 2010 season will be posted on Friday, May 28. New results will be posted monthly through November.

Partial funding for the Hudson River Water Quality web site has been provided by the Verizon Foundation.

Of the ten New York counties on the Hudson River Estuary, only four test water quality in the Hudson and none publish their findings for the public. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection does have a sampling program for Harbor waters but usually posts data that is one or two years old and uses seasonal averages which are much less useful to the public.

“The public is returning to the water. Thousands of people will recreate in the Hudson River and the waters surrounding New York City this summer,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain. “The question we still hear most is ‘How’s the water – can I safely swim in the river?’ Thanks to the hard work of government agencies, individuals and organizations, water quality in the Hudson has improved dramatically since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 – but we still haven’t met the goal of swimmable and fishable waters. Riverkeeper started our Water Quality Testing Program in 2006 as a public service in response to the growing demand for timely and consistent information about sewage contamination. We hope that informing the public will inspire discussion and public support to identify and fix our continuing sewage contamination problems.”

The Riverkeeper Water Quality Testing Program is a partnership with scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and CUNY’s Queens College. Now in its fifth year, with more than 1,500 samples taken, the study has meaningful findings to share on water quality throughout the estuary, at specific problem locations, and in relation to rain events and infrastructure shortcomings. These findings include:

  • Overall water quality around New York City is very similar to that in the mid and upper-Hudson.
  • All regions of the Hudson have clean locations and clean days as well as contamination hot spots and bad days. On average, sewage levels exceed federal guidelines 22% of the time, or 1½ days out of the average week, throughout the estuary.
  • 2009 data indicated a decline in water quality when compared to 2008 (29% of samples were “unacceptable” in 2009 compared with 19% in 2008). It was also a wetter year in terms of rainfall.
  • Rainfall is one of the consistent triggers of sewage overflows; however, it is not the only cause. Other causes include wastewater treatment plant failures or inadequacies, faulty septic systems, illegal sewage hook-ups, wildlife and agricultural livestock.

There are specific locations in every part of the Hudson River Estuary that are largely free of sewage contamination. Perhaps the most important finding Riverkeeper and its team of scientists has found is that sewage contamination is usually a local problem, caused by discharges that local residents could address once armed with the facts.

“Many people find our results surprising,” said Andrew Juhl, Ph. D., Doherty Associate Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. “When I talk to the public, most locals think that water quality in the Hudson is either uniformly bad, or uniformly restored. Our data show that the reality is somewhere in between. There are good days and bad days, whether you are in an industrial area near Manhattan, or in a pristine-looking northern tributary.”

Greg O’Mullan, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Queens College, noted, “As the people of New York are faced with issues surrounding the re-investment in water and sewer infrastructure, it is essential to have scientific data to inform our opinions and direct our efforts. The data from the Riverkeeper Water Quality Testing Program provide reason to be optimistic about restoration efforts and can also be used to identify contamination hot spots along the river that are in need of additional attention.”

Visit Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program online database, and the Swimmable River Campaign that it supports.

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