Hudson River Riverkeeper-compressed Image: Riverkeeper.org

When it comes to New York’s rivers, the Hudson has a bit of a reputation. It’s the river you wouldn’t want to take home to meet your mom.

All joking aside, the pollution in the Hudson River has been called a public hazard, especially in the area bordering Manhattan.

Earlier this summer, BuzzBuzzHome reported that nearly half of samples taken from the Hudson River between northern New Jersey and New York City failed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe swimming guidelines. This was due to the high amount of bacteria present at collection sites.

Riverkeeper, a not-for-profit organization that devotes itself to being “New York’s clean water advocate,” is working to stop polluters, protect river ecology, protect drinking water and educate the public. Its tests in the last months show that the river actually has acceptable water quality for much of upstate New York, but the area between Manhattan and New Jersey reveals dangerous levels of Enterococcus bacteria. An earlier study co-sponsored by Columbia University showed that much of the bacteria was a type that has a history of antibiotic-resistance.

Much of this data is simply proving something that New Yorkers have known for years — the Hudson River is nasty. But where is this bacteria coming from?

When it comes down to it, the Hudson River is unclean because of a combination of inefficient infrastructure and a lack of political will. New Jersey’s sewage system is a prime culprit for the pollution in the river. Outdated sewage systems allow sewage to mix with overflow water on the way to waste treatment facilities.

CSO_Diagram1 Image: Barnard College

The design of the system is standard for city infrastructure nationwide, but the problem is exacerbated in the tri-state area. This is due to high levels of rainfall coupled with very dense populations putting a strain on sewage system capacity. If the intake of water after snow and rainstorms exceeds the maximum amount of sewage the pipes are designed for, overflow may occur. Riverkeeper reports this could mean as much as 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year finding its way into the Hudson River.

Unfortunately, this is not simply a storm season issue. The Hudson River is not able to completely renew itself for swimming seasons, especially when cracks in the system and periodic spills occur.

Recent New Jersey legislation required system operators to notify the state Department of Environmental Protection within an hour of any spills so they would be able to notify the public. But Governor Christie let the bill expire without signing it, and instead directed leaders to craft long-term plans to address the issue.

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