HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – In the four decades since the 1972 Clean Water Act was enacted, the Hudson River has gone from a polluted waterway to a cleaner river that drives recreation, development and appreciation. Although great strides have been made, river advocacy groups believe there is still work to be done and the challenges are greater than ever.
“The river has tremendous ecological diversity and unparalleled scenic beauty, which drives the passion and spiritual commitment that achieves results,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, a non-profit advocacy organization. “Instead of being a dumping ground, people are coming down to the river like never before.”
Since the Clean Water Act was enacted, more than 50 public parks and preserves have been built along the Hudson River, Sullivan said.
“Many people recall being able to look into the Hudson River downstream from the General Motors site in Sleepy Hollow and be able to know what color they were painting the cars that day because of the discharge of polluted waste water into the Hudson,” Sullivan said.
The Clean Water Act was revolutionary in that it set the standards for fishable, drinkable and swimmable water, while also giving citizens the right to enforce these standards if the government doesn’t, said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, a watchdog group that monitors water quality.
Although there have been successes along the Hudson River, with many towns cleaning up contaminated sites and transforming the areas into parks and green space, there are still many villages struggling to clean up the hazardous materials.
“If there’s people who want to know if we won the battle of clean water, no, not on thousands of rivers and lakes and streams across the country,” Gallay said.
Despite the progress, sewage overflow, climate change and remaining contamination still pose challenges to the river. Although problems remain, matters would be much worse if the Clean Water Act was never passed.
“You’d have more untreated sewage going into the Hudson, more fish being killed by power plants, less safe recreation opportunities and you’d have lower property values along the river,” Gallay said.
He said he credits the Clean Water Act with the “renaissance on the Hudson” that it is experiencing, driving economic development, tourism and appreciation.
Despite the many challenges facing a cleaner Hudson River, Gallay said it’s important to focus on the future.
“The focus has to be on maintaining the gains we made in the past 40 years,” Gallay said. “We have to look at sustainable approaches to economic opportunities that benefit it and the environment as well. There’s a lot people have to care about in any given day, but people can get out to the river and speak up for it when an issue catches your heart.”