The Hudson River, namesake to an entire art movement and a central pillar of Westchester culture, has another distinction to add to its list: as of 2019 it is also the second most endangered river in the United States.
Every year, American Rivers releases its America’s Most Endangered Rivers report, weighing the significance of the country’s water sources against pending decisions that might impact their vitality within the next year, the severity of the threat, and the public’s ability to affect positive change. This year, for the first time in more than two decades, the Hudson River is included in this list, and in the second-highest spot.
The threat surprisingly comes not from pollutants or the contentious Indian Point nuclear facility, but from current plans by the Army Corps of Engineers to build surge barriers in and along the 315-mile river to manage storm damage. The goal is to prevent or mitigate destruction caused by extreme weather like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, as residents might recall from the Coast Guard’s previous attempts to build anchorage sites throughout the Hudson several years ago, these plans do not always receive the backing of local residents or environmental groups.
The report details two major problems with the six proposed plans. Firstly, the report argues that surge barriers, which remain open to shipping but would close during extreme weather patterns, do not adequately compensate for regular increases in water levels due to climate change. As a result, in-water barriers and shoreline barriers like flood walls, levees, or dunes would become less and less effective over time.
Secondly, while surge barriers would remain open to ships except in emergencies, American Rivers finds more concerning the effect such walls would have on the Hudson River Estuary. The 155-miles of tidal estuary and connected waters are home to various fish and wildlife that would not be able to traverse the barriers. Drainage would also be hampered, resulting in more localized pollution, more frequent algae blooms, lower oxygen levels, and compounded damage to the water’s ecosystems.
The Army Corps of Engineers did not return our requests for comment.
According to American Rivers, the key point will be a Draft Feasibility Report/Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement set to be released by the Army Corps of Engineers in spring of 2020. This report will limit the scope of the half-dozen plans the corps is currently considering. Currently, American Rivers approves only one option: shore-based flood prevention “which can include natural features and other environmentally-friendly technologies.” These measures would combat both storm and gradual flooding, without significantly impacting Hudson River ecosystems.
Westchester residents will want to pay close attention to this initial report, as several of the currently proposed plans are likely to be eliminated. American Rivers is encouraging locals to voice their concerns to the Army Corps of Engineers, and encourage the organization not to consider any in-water barriers that could impact the river, and to broaden the scope of its flood management planning to include more widespread sea level rise.
Get more information and learn how you can affect change at http://www.americanrivers.org/hudson2019.