OSSINING, N.Y. – On the heels of the 42nd anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, a new report tells the story of how the bedrock environmental law has helped to restore and protect the Hudson River.
For decades before the Clean Water Act, much of the Hudson River was heavily polluted on a daily basis with industrial runoff and wastewater discharge. The Clean Water Act led to a dramatic reversal, sparking industrial cleanup and huge investment in sewage system upgrades.
Clean water groups released Waterways Restored, a series of case studies compiled by Environment New York Research & Policy Center, on the banks of the Hudson River to highlight the need for a new rule to restore protections for more than 55 percent of the state’s rivers and streams.
“The Clean Water Act has brought progress to the Hudson River, but the law’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled,” said Sarah Vitti with Environment New York. “All of our rivers and streams deserve a success story.”
Portions of the iconic Hudson River once changed color depending on the color of cars being made that day at the GM plant in North Tarrytown – just one of many sources of industrial pollution of the Hudson. The Clean Water Act empowered local citizens to monitor and take action against industrial polluters lining the Hudson, helping lead to the return of fish and wildlife to the river.
"The Clean Water Act has been instrumental in enabling Riverkeeper and our supporters to reclaim the Hudson River from the hands of polluters," said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director at Riverkeeper. "The progress we’ve been able to make highlights how critical it is to support EPA’s proposal to broaden protection of our waterways, so that the myriad tributaries, creeks and other waterways that form the Hudson River Watershed are protected from future pollution.”
While the Hudson River is guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, 28,785 miles of New York’s rivers and streams are not, thanks to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago.
In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loophole. But oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are campaigning bitterly against it, and last month the U.S. House voted to block the rule.
Advocates at Tuesday's event, however, stressed broad support for the proposal from environmental groups, farmers, small businesses, and ordinary citizens. On Wednesday, Nov. 5, at least 35,000 supportive public comments from New York will be among the 200,000 delivered to EPA officials in Washington, DC.
"For 42 years, the Clean Water Act has been instrumental in protecting America's waters, including Long Island Sound," says Tracy Brown, Western Long Island Sound director for Save the Sound. "As Save the Sound has found with our summer water quality monitoring in Westchester, bacterial pollution is still a huge problem, especially in the rivers and streams that flow through our backyards. We need the might of the Clean Water Act to combat the problem with tools like limits on industrial polluter dischargers and funding programs for communities to clean up sewer discharges. We applaud the efforts to protect this bedrock environmental legislation and ask that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers finalize their proposed rule to reaffirm CWA protections to all of America's waterways."
While the Hudson River is getting cleaner, polluters still dump about 5 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways statewide each year. Protection from pollution and development for the smaller streams that flow into the Hudson River, advocates said, is crucial to protecting the river for future generations.
“The only way to continue the Hudson River on the path to success is to protect all the rivers and streams that flow into it,” said Vitti. “That’s why it’s so important for EPA to restore protections for all the waters that crisscross our state.”
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