Storm surge flood barriers being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers in response to Hurricane Sandy, threaten river health
Eileen Shader, American Rivers, (570) 856-1128
Leah Rae, Riverkeeper, (914) 478-4501 ext. 238
Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Hudson River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019, citing the grave threat that the potential construction of storm-surge barriers could pose to this rich tidal estuary. American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider alternative solutions that address broader climate-related challenges – both storm surge and sea level rise – without harming the river.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year,” said Eileen Shader with American Rivers. “Harming this iconic river with massive flood barriers doesn’t make sense when we should be identifying better, more cost-effective options to protect people and property, as well as river health.”
“We are already feeling the impacts of climate change in the Northeast, including storm-surge and sea-level rise, and it’s only going to get worse. We have an opportunity on the Hudson to demonstrate how protecting public safety and river health should go hand-in-hand in an era of climate change.”
“Abusing and degrading our rivers will make us more vulnerable to climate impacts. Protecting and restoring the river will make us better prepared to face future floods and safeguard communities,” Shader said.
Ever more extreme weather events and rising sea levels, the predicted impacts of climate change, are threatening cities and communities on the Atlantic Coast. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City and surrounding communities. The hurricane, and the storm-surge it brought with it, caused large-scale flooding and cost billions in damage. As a result, the Army Corps is studying options to build storm surge barriers— essentially massive sea walls with gates to separate the Hudson and New York harbor from the ocean. These walls, even with gates open, could act like dams, blocking fish and wildlife, including Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, American shad, American eel, river herring and sea lamprey, from moving up- and downstream and restricting the natural flow of the river. Obstructed by barriers, sewage and other contaminants could flush into the ocean more slowly, increasing localized pollution in the Harbor. With inhibited tidal energy, higher nutrient levels could lead to more frequent algae blooms and lower dissolved oxygen that would impact the health of the estuary and upriver tidal marshes.
The gates of these massive in-water barriers would usually remain open for ships to pass, leaving communities vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise. In an era of changing climate, future major storms will undoubtedly overtop the offshore barriers, ending the limited protection they can provide. American Rivers and its partners called on the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive, adaptable plan that includes a full suite of management approaches to reduce the impacts of rising floods, including natural infrastructure that restores natural features like floodplains, wetlands, barrier islands, and oyster reefs; nonstructural approaches that relocate, floodproof and elevate buildings and infrastructure; and where necessary, land-based approaches to protect buildings and infrastructure that cannot be relocated.
“For the Hudson, the stakes in this decision cannot be overstated. These storm barriers pose a truly existential threat to the Hudson. We cannot – must not – allow these barriers to be built. The twice-daily tides are the essential respiration and the heartbeat of this living ecosystem. The mouth of the river must remain open and unrestricted, as it has been for millennia,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy. “The Hudson has never faced a threat even close to this magnitude.”
“In-water storm surge barriers, despite costing endless billions, would not do a thing to protect against the daily flooding that would come with sea level rise – only against storms. They are only half a solution, and yet they threaten to cause permanent, catastrophic harm to the river. How do we protect against coastal flooding? Riverkeeper and our allies are demanding comprehensive, science-based, land-based solutions that will not harm the river.”
“The entire Hudson Raritan Estuary is put at risk by these shortsighted resiliency plans that threaten to block the tidal flow and fish migrations in our waterways,” NY/NJ Baykeeper Greg Remaud said. “The in-water barriers being considered by the Army Corps threaten the ecological, economic and recreational viability of the waters surrounding New York – New Jersey Harbor. The harborwide, in-water barriers under consideration will suffocate our regional waterways, including the Raritan, Passaic and Hackensack rivers in New Jersey, the Hudson, the Meadowlands and Jamaica Bay.”
“Other communities and waterways along the East Coast, and worldwide, may soon face harmful proposals like these, and we all need to be informed, vigilant and engaged,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, which includes more than 300 groups around the world. “Waterkeepers are sworn to protect our rivers and waterways, and we will protect these vital resources as humankind begins to fortify itself against sea level rise – which humankind itself has provoked. Our response to increased sea levels must not come at the expense of the health and vitality of our waters.”
“As an American Heritage River running from its headwaters in the Adirondack Mountains to New York Harbor, the Hudson is a vitally important waterway—ecologically, culturally and economically,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “For too long, the Hudson has been imperiled by pollution and unwise development decisions. The 70-year legacy of toxic PCB pollution by General Electric has reached a critical decision point in 2019. The Environmental Protection Agency must acknowledge that General Electric’s cleanup has failed to achieve its goals and require the company to conduct additional remediation of the river to standards that are protective of human health and the environment and unleash the river’s job-creating potential. At the same time, the storm surge barriers under consideration by the Army Corps could devastate the Hudson’s ecosystem and the communities living alongside it. As the Army Corps moves forward with its review process, it must ensure that any solution prevents coastal flooding from both storms and sea level rise without damaging the Hudson.”
“We have come so far in our fight to restore the Hudson. We see generations of children on our Sloop every day eager to continue this progress. We must not allow a short-sighted decision by the Army Corps to undo all the progress that we’ve made over the past half-century. The Corps’ study has enormous implications for generations into the future. The governments of New York, New Jersey and New York City that are funding the Army Corps of Engineers study must demand a comprehensive approach to coastal flood protection that addresses sea level rise, not just storms,” said Greg Williams, Executive Director with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.
The Hudson River flows 315 miles from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York through the Hudson Valley and into New York Harbor. As the second largest estuary on the East Coast, the Hudson provides critical habitat for endangered species, including Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, and threatened species including banded sunfish and Blanding’s turtles. The river is at the heart of a $5.5 billion tourism industry, attracting visitors who explore the history, forests, shorelines and communities across the Hudson Valley.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
The Hudson River was previously included on this list in 1996, 1997 and 2001. Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Susquehanna River (2016) and St. Lawrence River (2016).
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019
#1 Gila River, New Mexico
Gov. Grisham must choose a healthier, more cost-effective way to provide water to agriculture than by drying up the state’s last major free-flowing river.
#2 Hudson River, New York
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must consider effective, nature-based alternatives to storm-surge barriers that would choke off this biologically rich tidal estuary.
#3 Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri
State and federal agencies must enforce laws that prohibit illegal levees, which increase flood risk for communities and degrade vital fish and wildlife habitat.
#4 Green-Duwamish River, Washington
Local leaders must produce a flood protection plan that safeguards communities and restores habitat for chinook salmon — fish that are essential to the diet of Puget Sound’s endangered orca whales.
#5 Willamette River, Oregon
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must immediately improve 13 dams to save wild chinook salmon and steelhead from going extinct.
#6 Chilkat River, Alaska
The Japanese investment firm, DOWA, must do the responsible thing and back out of a mining project that could decimate native salmon.
#7 South Fork Salmon River, Idaho
The U.S. Forest Service must safeguard endangered fish by denying a mining proposal that could pollute this tributary of the Wild and Scenic Salmon River.
#8 Buffalo National River, Arkansas
Gov. Hutchinson must demand closure of an industrial hog-farming facility that pollutes groundwater and threatens endangered species.
#9 Big Darby Creek, Ohio
Local leaders must use state-of-the-art science to craft a responsible development plan that protects this pristine stream.
#10 Stikine River, Alaska
The International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada must protect the river’s clean water, fish and wildlife, and indigenous communities by stopping harmful, polluting mines.
2019’s “River of the Year”: Cuyahoga River, Ohio
American Rivers celebrates the progress Cleveland has made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River, fifty years since the river’s famous fire that sparked the nation’s environmental movement.
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