Bad news from the Riverkeeper

“The Hudson River is a 150-mile long public beach—and yet pollution continues to make the water unfit for recreation too often at too many locations.”

Riverkeeper’s new report How’s the Water? 2014 summarizes the state of the Hudson River for swimming and the news isn’t good. In many locations, the Hudson River fails to meet federal guidelines for safe swimming and, in the opinion of Riverkeeper’s experts, without investment in infrastructure, upgrades to state water quality standards and enforcement of pollution laws, it’s not likely to get better. Some details:

• 23% of Riverkeeper’s samples failed safe-swimming guidelines.

• 61% of Riverkeeper’s 74 sampling locations in the Hudson River Estuary fail EPA criteria for recreational water.

• Rainfall triggers a threefold increase in failure rate, from 12% of samples taken in dry weather to 34% after rainfall.

• Certain tributaries are more contaminated than the river itself, and act as pollution sources. The failure rate of the tidal portion of tributaries was 34%, compared to 18% at the mid-channel of the river.

Riverkeeper concludes that testing done by government agencies is currently inadequate to protect public health. Regulators should improve pollution controls to reduce contamination from human, agricultural, livestock and other sources.

Data taken in the Hudson River estuary in July, and historical data dating to 2006, are available at riverkeeper.org/ water-quality/hudson-river/

Toward ending slaughter of fish at Indian Point

Striped bass, American shad, river herring and other key Hudson River fish continue to be slaughtered in the hot water discharges at the outdated, unnecessary Indian Point nuclear plant.

There is a solution: Entergy should be compelled to create a closed–cycle cooling system.

In July, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), proposed periodic outages at Indian Point as an alternative to building the closed–cycle cooling system.

Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have said they believe there is no room for compromise or half measures when it comes to protecting and restoring our river.

They will support the DEC’s proposed outages only if they are permanent and cover all relevant spawning seasons for Hudson River fish and thus provide the same level of protection to the Hudson as closed-cycle cooling.

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Who lives in the Hudson River?

More than 200 species of fish have been found in the Hudson River and its watershed. Some are abundant, some are strays from the ocean that are seen only occasionally, but the diversity is impressive.

What accounts for the diversity?

The lower portion of the Hudson is an estuary, a body of water open to the sea, in which salt and fresh water come together. Off Manhattan, the water is salty, to the liking of seahorses, searobins and flounders. Salinity decreases as one moves upriver. There the river becomes fresh, home to sunfish, black bass, yellow perch, and a few northern pike.

The diversity of life is swelled by the variety of habitats to be found in and along the Hudson—tidal marshes, dense beds of submerged vegetation, clear-flowing tributary streams, and broad shallow bays that serve as solar collectors for huge populations of tiny algae: dinner for microscopic animals that are in turn the perfect food source for newborn fish.

The Hudson’s signature species are said to be Atlantic sturgeon, American shad and striped bass—migratory species that live in fresh water for the first part of their lives before swimming out into the Atlantic to mature. As adults they return to the river only to spawn. The American eel travels in the opposite direction; it’s born in the ocean and enters fresh water to grow to adulthood and then returns to the ocean to lay its eggs. The trip from fresh to salt water is something of a miracle, according to biologists, requiring migratory fish to have evolved unique, highly specialized kidneys.

The Hudson’s rich history of commercial fishing was severely damaged by pollution that closed the fisheries years ago.

As conditions improve and fish populations are restored, it is hoped the fisheries can be reopened.