Brooklyn Boro

New York City rivers named America’s second most endangered for 2019

Eco-activists say city's flood-proofing plans are a big threat

April 16, 2019 Scott Enman
The Hudson River was named the second most endangered river in America for 2019, according to American Rivers. Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo
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The Hudson River was named the second most endangered river in America for 2019 in a report released Tuesday, and the authors say that the government’s anti-flooding proposals threaten to accelerate ecological decay.

Storm surge barriers, proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect property along the city’s coastline, and climate change are the biggest threats to the Hudson River Estuary, according to American Rivers, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the country’s waterways. The estuary includes both the Hudson River and the East River.

“The Hudson River and rivers across the country will be profoundly impacted by climate change and we have a moral responsibility to ensure our communities are adapting to increasing floods and storm surge,” Eileen Shader, director of River Restoration at American Rivers, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“But we don’t have to sacrifice the health of the rich ecosystem of the vitally important Hudson River to keep people safe. We encourage all those who love the Hudson River to join us in telling the Army Corps that massive storm-surge barriers are not the answer.”

The annual report identifies 10 rivers that will face a critical decision in the near future. The Hudson River, which was the only East Coast waterway selected, was also named an endangered river in the study in 1996, 1997 and 2001.

While the barriers would alleviate flooding, especially during extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, they would do nothing to combat sea level rise, and water activists allege that they will cause major harm to the Hudson River’s marine life.

John Lipscomb, patrol boat captain and vice president of clean water nonprofit Riverkeeper, called the Army Corps’ proposal “fatally flawed.”

“They threaten to partially choke off the natural tidal flow of this rich estuary and block migrations of fish and wildlife, including endangered Atlantic sturgeon,” Lipscomb told the Eagle.

“From day one, these structures threaten to slowly strangle the life out of the Hudson River Estuary. They are at best a short-term solution to half the problem.”

In one plan released by the Corps, an $8.47 billion floodgate connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island would be installed near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

“Spending billions and billions to address flooding from potential future storms like Sandy while doing nothing to prevent future inevitable flooding from sea level rise is just plain crazy,” Lipscomb said. “New York State and the Corps have to reset this study: Get smart, do better.”

If flood mitigation efforts are not implemented, the Corps predicts that the economic damages could be as high as $187 billion over 50 years.

“One of the most important parts of this study is the feedback and engagement we get from the public,” the Corps told the Eagle. “We are in the very early phases of this process, and nothing is set in stone. All of the features in this study are proposals.”

American Rivers, Riverkeeper and even the New York City Council are calling on the Corps to broaden its thinking and find alternative solutions that not only protect the New York area from flooding, but also ones that address sea level rise and do not harm the ecosystem of the river.

Most of the Hudson is a tidal estuary with salt water from the New York City area mixing with fresh water from northern tributaries. The entire estuary stretches about 315 miles from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York through the Hudson Valley and into New York Harbor.

The most endangered list has prompted successful action at many waterways across the nation, including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

The only other waterway with a greater threat than the Hudson is the Gila River in New Mexico. The Upper Mississippi River came in at number 3.

Here is the full list of the 10 most endangered rivers:

1: Gila River, New Mexico
2: Hudson River, New York
3: Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri
4: Green-Duwamish River, Washington
5: Willamette River, Oregon
6: Chilkat River, Alaska
7: South Fork Salmon River, Idaho
8: Buffalo National River, Arkansas
9: Big Darby Creek, Ohio
10: Stikine River, Alaska

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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