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Riverkeeper Expands Online Water Quality Data

An environmental group has expanded the number of locations where it and its partners test water quality. And the expanded information is now available at a centralized location online.

If you want to go for a swim in the Hudson River and wonder if it’s safe, Riverkeeper has water quality testing data from some 425 locations throughout, from the Adirondacks to New York Harbor, and along Hudson River tributaries. The data is displayed on interactive maps that have been expanded this year to include two-thirds more locations than a year ago. Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Director Dan Shapley puts his money where the information is.

“I would swim in the Hudson. I have swum in the Hudson. I would do it again,” says Shapley. “I would choose where to swim based on the best available data.”

The water quality data reflects the presence of sewage or other fecal contamination, measured using Environmental Protection Agency-approved methods.

“And, really, a large swath of the middle of the Hudson is often very good for swimming, very safe from a water quality perspective,” Shapley says.

He says rain, however, is one of the main triggers of contamination.

“And we see that that impact of rain is most pronounced, not surprisingly, in places like the Capital District or around Utica where you have combined sewer systems, so those sewers overflow when it rains releasing untreated sewage right to the water,” says Shapley. “So that still, that remains our biggest problem.”

And certain areas take longer to recover.

“We can see in some places, like the Capital District where even two, three days after a rainstorm there’s still poor water quality even that long after,” says Shapley. “In other parts of the river, there’s a higher volume of water, things are flushed more quickly so that the recovery time is faster.”

The database at riverkeeper.org/water-qualityassists swimmers and other water enthusiasts like kayakers. Beacon-based Mountain Tops Outfitters Kayak Company is at Scenic Hudson's Long Dock Park. Katie Behnyey is co-owner of Mountain Tops Outfitters.

“It’s definitely helpful for us to know what the water quality is in our area because we do kayaking tours, we do lessons where people are getting in the water practicing rescues,” Behney says. “And then just, we do have a lot of people who ask about swimming down there so it’s helpful if we can help out with that information, being able to look up that information, have a resource and be like yes, it is safe, no, it’s not right now.”

And her tours focus on the following areas in the river.

“We generally stay between the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and Bannerman’s Island,” says Behney. “But we do a lot around the Denning’s Point area and a lot of people will go down to Denning’s Point to swim.”

As for swimming, New York Open Water’s seventh annual 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim is in progress. The 120-mile swim that begins at the Rip van Winkle Bridge in the Catskill and finishes in New York City promotes water quality and turns to Riverkeeper’s water quality data. Shapley calls every water quality sample a vote for clean water.

“The expansion of the web site was really to just pull into one place all of the projects that we had started over the last couple of years,” says Shapley. “So the Mohawk River t he Upper Hudson River are the two biggest but there are other creeks and tributaries and waterfronts that we just hadn’t been displaying in one place and now we’re doing that at one location on the web.”

Shapley says the water quality data helped to document the need for New York’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, which will provide grants for communities to invest in water infrastructure upgrades. He says the overall bill for water infrastructure investments statewide has been estimated at $80 billion or more over 20 years, so the Clean Water Infrastructure Act is an important step, but more is needed to help clean up the water.

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