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Riverkeepers: Protecting the Hudson River

Riverkeepers: Protecting the Hudson River

Protecting the Hudson River

Every mile of the Hudson is alive. It is alive under the surface. It is alive on the banks. That life, that vibrancy, that culture, that rhythm is what Riverkeeper is out to protect.

—Paul Gallay, President of Riverkeeper

The Hudson River–315 miles of beauty flowing south from the Adirondacks through the Hudson Valley, all the way down to the inner city bay before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean at the New York Harbor. Maybe you grew up near the river, maybe you learned how to swim or water ski on it, or maybe you just moved to the area and are seeing her beauty for the first time. Regardless of your relationship with the Hudson, the river’s beauty is timeless, pristine, and should be preserved for years to come.

At the forefront of this preservation is Riverkeeper, an organization that was originally founded in 1966 by fishermen who were fed-up with industrial pollution and government neglect that had turned the river toxic. Known as The Hudson River Fishermen, they banded together to use a decades-old federal law to begin the river’s recovery.

Today, Riverkeeper holds this vision of a Hudson River teeming with life, flowing with clean, swimmable waters from end to end, and providing a source of healthy abundant drinking water for all New Yorkers. Their goals are to guard the New York waterways, defend clean drinking water, and continue finding solutions to the problems of abuse by holding polluters responsible for their actions. Their vigilance has been effective. Riverkeeper’s work has helped to pass crucial legislation, such as the Sewage Right to Know Act in 2012, and the Water Infrastructure Act in 2017, which invested $2.5 billion towards clean drinking water in New York.

How is this safeguarding accomplished? One of the main methods is to take water samples from all over the Hudson and its tributaries, then analyze the water to determine what pollutants are there and why.

In 2006, research Scientist Andrew Juhl of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory partnered with Riverkeeper to begin regular sampling of the Hudson. Andy earned his PhD in Biological Oceanography from the University of California, San Diego. Since beginning his work with Riverkeeper in 2006, the organization now draws over 400 monthly samples taken from the entirety of the river.

What does the data from the water tell us? According to Andy, the river is much healthier now than it was in the 1960s, when companies were dumping oil and many other pollutants into the river on a daily basis. On average, about 80% of the water in the Hudson is safe for human contact, but there is still work to be done.

No two parts are the same in the Hudson—Nyack’s waterway is different from Tarrytown’s, and Haverstraw’s is different from Ossining’s. They all have different pollutants and minerals in them. What does this tell us? That local actions affect local waters directly. From what goes down the sink to what goes down the toilet—it all has to go somewhere and plenty of it goes back into the River and its surrounding tributaries. Be mindful of what goes down the drain.

Dan Shapley of Riverkeeper offers this encouragement: “Spend a day with water on your mind. Look at the water and wonder where does it come from? Where does it go? What is its name?”

Go to to find out more about their work, and to see how you can help fight for clean water in your community.

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