The Hudson River is beautiful in August. The river undulates, causing the sunlight to refract fleetingly off of the dark blue swells. A few summers ago, I had the chance to waterski by Chelsea Pier as part of a David Letterman segment. As I went out onto the water that day, I remember marveling at how clean the water was. I hadn’t expected the Hudson to be beautiful, but at the time it seemed almost serene against the New York bustle. Even now, it’s hard to believe that it might not be just as lovely next year, the year after that, or even in ten years.
But as awful as it is, the river’s beauty might fade away under gallons of misdirected sewage and spilled-over drains.
It’s easy to think of environmental conservation as someone else’s problem. We don’t think about the waste we produce over the course of a day, or week – or where it all goes after we turn off the faucet or put out the trash. We assume, in a city of 8.5 million people, that the municipal, state, and federal governments have set to the task of figuring out a way to control urban waste with minimal damage to the waterways we live, play, and drink from.
Unfortunately, we aren’t as environmentally-prepared as we should be. New York City standards for water sanitation are shockingly subpar compared to those set by federal regulations – as it stands, millions of gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater are routed through the city’s flawed storm drainage system and into New York’s waterways every time it storms. According to figures reported by the New York Time, an estimated 27 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the harbor in an average year.
Suffice to say, the safety and cleanliness of our waterways are under threat. Keeping to the current status quo simply isn’t an option, given the risk to both humane and environmental interests. Worryingly, local and federal governments aren’t doing much to fix the issue.
While the EPA has prodded the city to update its subpar standards, it hasn’t enforced its mandate as it is legally compelled to under the 1972 Clean Water Act. As Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, recently commented: “It’s the EPA’s job to protect people and ensure we all have access to water that won’t make us sick when we drink or play in it […] but the agency isn’t doing anyone any good if it won’t enforce the rules.”
In fact, it would appear that the situation is about to get worse. In late June of this year, the city of New York filed plans noting the city’s intent to continue with the flawed overflow dumping system. Left unchecked, this policy will facilitate the spilling of billions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways over the next decade. Moreover, the plan at hand would only be for part of the city; further plans based on the same concerning metrics are rumored to be in the works.
A number of local environment groups have taken strides to combat the danger by filing legal suits against the city’s plans in the hopes of stopping this careless trend towards polluting our home waterways. However, more needs to be done, and those who love the waterways need to get involved in the fight to save them. The Hudson River’s beauty doesn’t have to be fleeting – and its loss would be a tragedy.
To get involved, consider reaching out to one of these wonderful organizations!