Fix the pipes, save the river
There’s the Champlain Bridge and its vital link between New York’s North Country and Vermont that was allowed to rot beyond repair. There’s the realization that some 110 bridges across the state are in as bad or perhaps worse condition, and the cost of fixing or replacing them. And all the while, there have been aging sewer systems in older communities discharging untreated sewage into the Hudson River
No, there’s nothing new, really, about the neglect of New York’s infrastructure. It’s been four years, in fact, since the Capital District Regional Planning Commission began assessing the damage done to the river, one of New York’s greatest natural resources.
What will be new will be the calculated price, available in about a year, of stopping such widespread pollution, and whether it will be a wake-up call or a knockout punch.
Here’s the toll of decades of relying upon sewage systems to handle heavier storms than they’re capable of doing, according to a recent planning commission report:
About 1.2 billion gallons of sewage a year — from drainage systems that serve more than 150,000 people in Albany, Troy, Watervliet, Rensselaer, Cohoes and Green Island — are being discharged into the river. Infrastructure still in place generations after it was installed is polluting the possibilities of the Hudson.
This was supposed to be a triumphant time for the river, literally 400 years after Henry Hudson sailed from New York City to Albany and just as PCBs were being dredged at last from the area farther to the north. Sewage pollution of this magnitude could raise bacteria levels high enough to make swimming, kayaking and other recreational use of the river unsafe.
Fixing these sewages systems will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Continuing to allow such pollution in a region that could be so much more enriched by the Hudson, however, might well have a price that’s beyond calculation.
By now, the commitment of funds to maintain New York’s infrastructure can be fairly met by a wary public with some heavy skepticism. There was supposed to be a $3 billion fund, remember, to pay for repairs like those that were so urgently needed to the Champlain Bridge, which now must replaced at a price of about $57 million. But the state instead allowed the money to be used for other purposes. Surely sewage overflows along the Hudson might have made for a worthy project to be paid for with some of New York’s $26.7 billion in federal economic stimulus funds.
The Obama administration, though, reasonably preferred to pay for projects that were ready to begin. The older communities along the Hudson may have to bear the price of delay.
History affords more attention to the people who build bridges and are the first to navigate rivers than to those left to be stewards of such feats. It’s left to the contemporaries of the latter to see that they fulfill their less glamorous yet equally critical role.
Sewage overflows are polluting the Hudson.
Poor infrastructure maintenance threatens a treasured natural resource of New York.