New York State Offers Hudson River Restoration Plan

ALBANY, New York, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - People would be able to fish and swim the entire 315 mile length of the Hudson River under the Hudson River Estuary Program's newly released final draft Action Agenda in honor of the exploration of the river by Henry Hudson nearly 400 years ago. By restoring and protecting the whole river, the plan aims to safeguard the Hudson River Estuary, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean under the Verrezano Narrows bridge in New York Harbor.

The conservation blueprint was issued in the last week of December after a four year planning process organized by the Hudson River Estuary Program, which operates within the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Scientists, businesses, sportsmen, commercial fishermen, local elected officials, environmental advocacy groups, academics, and educators served on an advisory committee and subcommittees that produced the final draft.

Hudson

Looking across the Hudson River Estuary towards midtown Manhattan (Photo courtesy Stanne/NYSDEC)
"The Action Agenda proposes a vision for the future of the Hudson River and identifies immediate steps to be taken for the continued revitalization of this important waterway," said Commissioner Denise Sheehan, who heads the Estuary Program.

The Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda 2005-2009 and Generic Environmental Impact Statement are presented in celebration of the 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, organizers said.

A 21 member Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission is planning and developing the 400th anniversary celebrations of the voyages of discovery made by Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain in 1609, as well as the 200th anniversary of the launching of Robert Fulton's steamboat on the Hudson River in 1807.

New York City, with a population of over eight million people, is located at the mouth of the Hudson River Estuary, which stretches 153 miles inland from the Atlantic ocean. Home to more than 200 species of fish, the Hudson River Estuary serves as a nursery ground for sturgeon, striped bass and American shad. It also supports an abundance of birds that inhabit the estuary.

The goals of the Action Agenda are to:

  1. Restore the signature fisheries of the estuary to their full potential, ensuring future generations the opportunity to make a seasonal living from the Hudsonís bounty, and to fish for sport and consume their catch without concern for their health.

  2. Conserve, protect, and, where possible, enhance critical river and shoreline habitats to assure that the life cycles of key species are supported for human enjoyment and to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

  3. Conserve for future generations the rich diversity of plants, animals and habitats that are key to the vitality, natural beauty and environmental quality of the Hudson River Valley.

  4. Protect and restore the streams, their corridors, and the watersheds that replenish the estuary and nourish its web of life - a system critical to the health and well-being of Hudson Valley residents and the estuary.

  5. Conserve key elements of the human, pastoral landscapes that define the character of the Hudson River Valley and its setting of history and mystique.

  6. Conserve the key features of the world-famous river scenery - the inspiration for the Hudson River School of American painting and for the tales of Washington Irving - and provide new and enhanced vistas where residents and visitors can enjoy Hudson River views.

  7. Establish a regional system of access points and linkages so that every community along the Hudson has at least one new or upgraded access point to the river for fishing, boating, swimming, hunting, hiking, education, or river-watching.

  8. Promote public understanding of the Hudson River, including the life it supports and its role in the global ecosystem, and ensure that the public understands the challenges the Hudson River faces and how they can be met.

  9. Revitalize all the waterfronts of the valley so that the Hudson is once again the front door for river communities, where scenery and natural habitats combine with economic and cultural opportunity, public access, and lively green ports and harbors to sustain vital human population centers.

  10. Ensure that the Hudson River will be swimmable from its source high in the Adirondack Mountains all the way to New York City.

  11. Remove or remediate pollutants and their sources so that all life stages of key species are viable, and people can safely eat Hudson River fish, and so our harbors are free of the contaminants that constrain their operation.
There is a long way to go before these goals are reached as problems in the Hudson River Estuary abound. Oysters, once sought after as a delicacy, are now found only occasionally in the estuary and are not edible due to biological contamination. Sediments in some places are polluted with PCBs.

sturgeon

Biologist with hatchery-reared Atlantic sturgeon (Photo courtesy Hudson Estuary Program)
American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, river herring, American eel and largemouth bass are in decline. Striped bass, having successfully recovered, face increasing fishing pressure, requiring careful management. Shortnose sturgeon may be at a historic high in the Estuary.

A goal for the Estuary Program is by 2016, to ensure the return of the first mature and fully protected female Atlantic sturgeon to the Hudson River Estuary, with a long term goal of establishing the Hudson River Atlantic sturgeon population at a fishable level that would encourage its re-emergence as a regional gourmet delicacy.

The wildlife that live near seasonal woodland pools, wetland buffers, lowland forests, stream corridors, grasslands are vanishing as these habitats are being replaced by invasive and overabundant plants and animals which are homogenizing the Hudson Valley, degrading the regionís distinctive character.

By 2009 the Estuary Program proposes to enlist 200 partners - 60 municipalities, 100 willing landowners and 40 businesses and nonprofits - in conserving 50,000 acres of six target habitats and representative species.

Target habitats:

Hudson Valley streams are stressed by land use activities, such as increases in impervious surfaces, loss of vegetative cover, agricultural and lawn runoff, fish barriers, and water withdrawals, as well as atmospheric deposition of pollutants. These stresses can cause soil erosion and siltation, polluted stormwater runoff, streambank erosion, property loss from flooding, loss of groundwater recharge, nutrient enrichment, and unnaturally low stream flows.

Stressed streams may become degraded, no longer providing healthy drinking water, outdoor recreation, productive fish and wildlife habitat, and essential building blocks for the Hudson River Estuary food web.

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Overlooking the Hudson River Valley near Mongaup, New York. (Photo courtesy )
Sediment and contaminants from the watershed can enter the estuary through its tributaries, causing impacts to the estuary and New York-New Jersey Harbor.

The Estuary Program plans to use a combination of planning and zoning updates; federally funded incentive programs; site stewardship and best management practices; conservation easements and open space acquisition to conserve habitats and the species that shelter there.

The proposal has gathered some community support. Science Director of the Hudson River Foundation and Director of the Hudson River Estuary Management Advisory Committee, Dennis Suszkowski, said, "The Estuary Action Agenda sets the right goals for the future of the Hudson. This is an important step forward."

The Estuary Program has assisted in establishing and supporting the development of 10 watershed conservation groups and programs on the tributaries of the Hudson, and by 2009 the goal is to assist eight of these groups in developing and implementing watershed protection and restoration plans.

At the same time, municipalities will be encouraged to take a leadership role through such measures as intermunicipal watershed agreements and incorporating water resource considerations in comprehensive plans.

Ned Sullivan, president of the environmental organization and land trust Scenic Hudson, said New York Governor George Pataki, who is not running for re-election in 2006, is leaving a legacy of a Hudson River headed for health.

"Governor Pataki has shown outstanding leadership on the Hudson," Sullivan said. "All New Yorkers will remember this as his legacy. Scenic Hudson pledges to be an active partner in achieving the targets set for 2009."

Commissioner Sheehan said, "Under the leadership of Governor George Pataki, DEC worked with stakeholders along the river to ensure the most effective and complete plan for the Hudson. This partnership helped create a multifaceted plan that will work to conserve the outstanding natural resources of the Hudson Valley, clean up pollution and promote public enjoyment of the river and its shores."

President of Mid-Hudson Pattern for Progress Michael DiTullo, said, "This is an important step in developing a regional vision and creating the partnerships needed to protect our outstanding natural and historic heritage along the Hudson. The State's Estuary Program has proven its value to us and helps us work together as a region."

The Hudson River Estuary Program is funded by the State Environmental Protection Fund, federal funds and other sources. New York State has targeted approximately $368 million for implementation of priorities in the Hudson River Estuary Action Plan.

The Draft Action Agenda was released in April of this year and was subject to public review and comment through June 2005. The final Action Agenda includes responses to comments received and is subject to a public comment period, after which it will be finalized by the DEC.

The Action Agenda can be found at: www.dec.state.ny.us/website/hudson/agendacomment.html.

Comments will be accepted until January 12, 2006. Comments may be submitted to hrep@gw.dec.state.ny.us or to Hudson River Estuary Program, NYSDEC 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561.