On The Street

Swimming in the Hudson Could Become a Reality With Governor’s New Grants

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By Michael Gold

Did you ever want to go for a swim in the Hudson River on a sweltering hot summer day, surrounded by the green hills and mountains on shore?

That kind of cool relief could become a reality for residents of Westchester and Putnam counties in the near future, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Jan. 5 announcement of her NY SWIMS program. It offers $150 million in grants for cities, villages and towns in the state to build new swimming pools of all kinds, from pop-up aboveground, movable pools to floating river pools.

As part of the program, the governor’s office will hand out $60 million in competitive grants “for the deployment of innovative, floating pools that can allow New Yorkers to safely swim in natural bodies of water,” the announcement stated.

The program also plans to help expand swimming opportunities in “underserved communities and areas prone to extreme heat,” the governor’s announcement said.

Currently, there is only one public bathing area in Westchester on the Hudson River– Croton Point Beach. There are none in Putnam. There are three other public bathing areas on the Hudson – the Beacon River Pool, Kingston Point Beach and The Sojourner Truth/Ulster Landing County Park in Saugerties. The Phillipse Manor Beach Club, in Sleepy Hollow, is private.

“The River Pool is a rainbow-colored circular floating pool with a netted bottom securely installed in the Hudson River,” the Beacon River Pool website explains

(https://www.riverpool.org). “Swimmers safely sit, float and play in the River Pool to cool off while an on-duty lifeguard is present.”

Swimming in the Hudson is “awe. It is joy,” said Dan Shapley, senior director of advocacy, policy and planning for Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization helping to safeguard water quality in the Hudson and other state water bodies.

Shapley explained that Riverkeeper gathers water samples from 74 areas of the Hudson on a regular basis and found that 80 percent of its samples show that the river is safe for swimming. Since 2006, the organization has taken nearly 8,000 samples.

“Westchester and Putnam County water “almost always meets EPA safe swimming criteria,” in the open water, away from shore, Shapley said. There are still sewage problems afflicting the Hudson along some shorelines and tributaries in Westchester-Putnam he said, but “the water’s pretty darn good in a lot of places.”

The critical question for safe swimming, he explained, “is sewage getting in the water. That’s the pathway for pathogens and bacteria. Sewage is the main thing we (Riverkeeper) test for.”

At Croton Point Beach, “almost 100 percent of our samples are safe for swimming,” Shapley said. Because Croton Point is a Westchester County park, the county tests the water quality there as well.

In terms of the Hudson as a whole, “all of our testing shows in a vast area beyond the shoreline, the big wide river has excellent water quality,” he explained. There are variations in that quality close to shorelines, because of “leaks from sewage systems, particularly after rain,” Shapley said.

The main cause of sewage flow into the river is rainstorms, which causes contaminants to enter the water.

Ossining Town Supervisor Liz Feldman said she was “open” to the idea of a river pool.

“We will explore the governor’s grant” in order to develop a beach bathing facility with lifeguards and water testing,” she said.

The Louis Engel Waterfront Park is available for Ossining residents to sit, relax and play on the sand, but currently not to swim in the Hudson.

“I would have to look at the Beacon model,” Feldman said. “E. coli numbers spike 24 hours after a storm, she explained. Therefore, residents “are not allowed to swim, but we’re working to fix that.”

Shapley suggested in an e-mail how towns could accomplish this, by investigating their sewers and stormwater pipes.

“Old pipes in old communities means that there are some buildings that may not be connected to the sewers, or there may be sewer pipes connected to storm sewers (allowing sewage to reach water directly, rather than be channeled to the sewage treatment plant), there may be leaks in sewer pipes that allow sewage to leak from those pipes.

“These same set of issues can allow stormwater to enter sewage pipes, leading to overflows. Ossining is doing this, by the way. It has a $30,000 state grant it plans to use to investigate part of its sewer system,” Shapely also wrote. “The state hands out grants of this size for these types of investigations. The result is typically an engineering report that identifies the fixes needed and then other state grants and loans can cover the cost of those repairs. I’d say Ossining is among the exemplary in being diligent about maintenance and upgrades to its sewers.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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