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Rethink on water resources required to combat climate change

Catastrophic storms like Irene, Lee and Superstorm Sandy ravaged much of the Hudson River watershed with flooding and erosion. Environmental advocates and policy makers say that’s evidence that climate change is having a major impact on the quantity and quality of the region’s water supplies.

Stakeholders joined the Hudson River Watershed Alliance and Mohonk Consultations for a conference in New Paltz earlier this week. They called for communities to seize the moment while admitting that changing existing attitudes towards water management can take a long time.

Environmentalists said the intensity of storm events was increasing as a result of climate change. The rain water they dump on much of the watershed is overwhelming the state’s aging wastewater infrastructure. Advocate Tracy Brown of Riverkeeper says its causing overflow that contaminates public waterways with human waste.

While a lot of communities have this problem, she says it’s worse in the capital region.

“They’re releasing a lot of sewage every time it rains," Brown said. "In addition to that the waste water treatment plants that they had don’t do disinfection, so in the background even in dry weather when they’re operating properly and they’re not bypassing, they’re doing the filtration and treatment but they’re not disinfecting for pathogens.”

As a result, Brown says the Hudson River isn’t zoned for recreational use near Albany, but a few miles downstream where waste water is disinfected, the water is safe enough for swimming.

Julie Moore, a senior engineer with Vermont water resources group, Stone Environmental, says as rain storms become more frequent and intense it’s important for watershed communities to change their approaches to stream management.

“At that day-to-day scale, a lot of the strategies we employed were ok because they worked, but in these extreme events we haven’t given the rivers the room they need and the events tend to be catastrophic and extremely expensive,” Moore said.

She says streams and rivers will occasionally need to change direction and flood when inundated with water. Moore adds that mitigating flooding upstream will likely cause more destruction downstream.

Both Mohonk Consultations and the Hudson River Watershed Alliance are sharing data presented at the climate change conference online to encourage communities to begin implementing programs that will help preserve the Hudson River watershed.