The Hudson River has earned quite the reputation – let’s be honest, it’s not so good. However, the long held belief about the cleanliness (or lack thereof!) of the Hudson can actually be challenged.

We got in touch with 29-year veteran at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in New York, Beau Ranheim – Section Chief of Marine Sciences, to get an inside look at the real status behind the water quality of the river. Ranheim provided some important information and notable facts that just may change your mind about the reality of the Hudson.

What is the status of the Hudson? What is being done to improve water quality?

New York Harbor, including the Hudson River, is cleaner and healthier today than it has been since the Civil War! Over the last 15 years, the DEP has invested more than $16 billion to upgrade the City’s wastewater system and better manage stormwater – including the nation’s largest and most aggressive green infrastructure program!

The City of New York has built more than 10,000 rain gardens across the five boroughs. By capturing stormwater before it can enter the sewers, rain gardens reduce the likelihood of overflows into local waterways.

Our testing of harbor water demonstrates that bacteria levels have improved dramatically since I [Ranheim] first came onboard in 1992. And it’s not just the testing that tells us the water is healthier – sightings of dolphins, seals and even whales are becoming much more common in the Harbor. It is important to note, however, that intense rainstorms can still cause pollution in the form of a CSO discharge into the Hudson River. It’s probably best to avoid water contact during these periods.

Have shutdowns during the pandemic affected the cleanliness of the water?

The pandemic caused a shift in life patterns that we are currently doing research on to assess the impact on water quality.  It’s too early to tell but combined with a relatively mild weather year it appears that water quality in NY Harbor did improve in 2020.

Do the changing tides have an impact on cleanliness? What about certain times of the year?

The Hudson is tidally dominated around New York City. This strong tidal action allows for any impurities in the Harbor to be regularly flushed out – which helps improve water quality.

NY Harbor tends to be healthier during the winter months as there is less biological activity. Generally, heavy rain events are the largest contributor to water quality degradation in the Harbor – hence the construction of the 10,000+ rain gardens, with more to come, to help manage the stormwater.

What plans are in place to continue improving the quality of the Hudson?

DEP’s capital investment plan for the next several years includes billions of dollars to further improve the health of local waterways. This includes green infrastructure projects to intercept stormwater before it can reach our sewers. It also includes more traditional sewer upgrades and holding tanks, as well as Bluebelts and wetlands projects, that improve resiliency and coastal protection while encouraging natural filtration of waterbodies.

Our New York City Triathlon produced by Life Time isn’t the only event that utilizes the Hudson River. Ranheim noted there are several other events with whom they have worked, including Swim Manhattan, Dragon Boat Races, movie productions, and some special events hosted by the Mayor’s Office, to name a few.

We give a special thanks to Beau for providing these facts about the Hudson. So, let’s show some love to this famous tidal estuary and get ready to enjoy those brackish (slightly salty) waters this summer!


Composed by S. Bailey, June 25, 2021.