June 5, 2013 - Hudson River Estuary Management Advisory Committee Meeting
HREMAC 2012 Annual Report
On behalf of the Hudson River Estuary Program's Management Advisory Committee ("the Committee"), I am once again pleased to provide you with the Committee's Annual Report. Section 11-0306 of the NYS Environmental Conservation Law requires the Committee to update you on its observations of the Hudson River Estuary Program ("the Estuary Program") and signature progress on the Estuary Action Agenda.
Cleaner & Greener: Environmental Protection, Storm Response and Economic Development
The Committee values the Estuary Program, its staff and Action Agenda, for its coordination of environmental, community and economic concerns along the Hudson Estuary. In 2012, the Program assisted with the development of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council's award-winning Strategic Plan by providing information to the Council's "Green Circles" sub-committee, and, among other deliverables, helped local communities build resilience to severe storms and weather events.
The Estuary Program's work has been consistent with goals laid out in Governor Cuomo's Cleaner Greener NY Agenda by advancing work to create climate smart communities, protecting strategically-important lands, and revitalizing urban waterfronts. The program regained important momentum this year through the reestablishment of a mini-grants program, awarding $145,276 to 17 groups and communities. Its work has helped communities prepare for climate change, make their waterfronts open and inviting to tourism, sustain the region's habitats, open spaces and traditional outdoor recreation opportunities, and poise the region for recovery of fish populations. Fifty four communities have taken the Climate smart pledge in the Hudson Valley counties. Nineteen communities have taken action on developing Climate Action Plans; 14 are complete, and another 4 are in progress.
On the heels of last year's Environmental Quality Award by the US EPA, the Estuary Program also has gained a new level of respect among federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers that has engaged New York State in a dialogue about the potential for a companion federal restoration plan for the Hudson.
These and other specific accomplishments are detailed in the 2012 Program Coordinator's Report.
- Legacy for the Future
Looking forward, as the Program begins revisions to its Action Agenda, there are significant opportunities to transform the DEC's work along the Hudson Estuary, as well as in the Mohawk and upper-Hudson basins, by advancing economic, social and environmental goals. The Committee is enthusiastic about enhancements made by the Governor to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, particularly for Hudson Estuary Management and Natural Infrastructure improvements, that are an important first step toward achieving this vision.
- Habitat Restoration Plan
The Program has been completing a draft Habitat Restoration Plan that has potential to reverse generations of harm done to the river. Finalization and release of the state's plan will guide the development of a companion federal plan for the Hudson that will be synergistic with the existing Hudson-Raritan Ecosystem Restoration plan for the NY-NJ Harbor. Implementation of a joint state-federal plan for the entire estuarine system from the Harbor to the Troy Dam will improve water quality, buffer our communities against rising waters and climate change, revitalize our waterfronts, promote tourism and create jobs.
The plan may address issues critical to the region, such as advancing the "Saving the Land That Matters Most" initiative, retrofitting and/or replacing water and wastewater facilities, mitigating artificial barriers in tributaries, monitoring and improving fish and wildlife populations, and promoting public access to the River in urban communities and maintaining existing parks, esplanades and boat launches on the Hudson.
- Storm Resilience
As New York State moves toward refining and implementing the findings of the 2100 Commission Report, the Estuary Program Action Agenda and the draft Restoration Plan referenced above can serve as an important conduit to Hudson Valley communities. As part of this effort, the Committee wishes to voice its support for investments in both natural systems and built infrastructure to ensure that Hudson waterfront communities and the lands and waters upon which they rely are protected for future generations. A comprehensive assessment of flood-prone areas is needed as a precursor to developing a "sea level rise action plan" for the region that includes strategic protection of open space and shallow water habitat, shoreline hardening where it is appropriate, and safeguarding of critical transportation, public recreation, and water treatment infrastructure. Early demonstration projects could be developed to aid in a public communication strategy and foster community partnerships that will be necessary to realize long term objectives.
- Water Quality Improvements
Water quality in the Hudson continues to be at risk. This summer there were several sewage spills in the River due to aging infrastructure, one of which threatened the Iron Man competition in Manhattan. The Committee recommends that the state invest in projects that upgrade existing infrastructure, as well as nascent approaches that achieve goals articulated in the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Act on a regional basis. With the coming on line of the Sewage Right to Know Law, it is also important that water quality monitoring projects continue and that consistent and transparent water quality data and information be made available to the public.
- Cultural Landscape and Scenic Resources
Using our landscape as inspiration, the Hudson River school painters created a uniquely American appreciation for nature and the Hudson Valley has been in the vanguard of the environmental movement ever since. Actions taken by the Estuary Program and DEC that result in a healthier river and watershed also contribute to the protection of our world renowned scenery and our cultural landscape. Not only do these efforts protect the elements that define our quality of life, but they also contribute to our Valley's robust tourism economy. The Committee would like to acknowledge the significant progress by the State and its many partners during the year 2012 in conserving almost 3,000 acres of the Hudson River Valley's cultural landscape. The Committee applauds the recognition by the Estuary Program that the preservation of the scenic vistas associated with the Hudson River is vital to the preservation of the estuary as a whole.
- Information Management to Empower Local Communities
As the challenges faced in our region become more complex and in need of real-time response, the Committee believes it is critical for data, trend data, and information from various sources to be made available and accessible to communities. There are many data sets available for understanding natural habitats, flood-prone lands, public access resources, at-risk infrastructure, and more, but few mechanisms for using it or soliciting feedback regarding its usefulness from community, local government and business interests. The Committee recommends that a "coastal conditions dashboard" based on a comprehensive assessment of ecological resources and other factors be developed for the region.
This science-driven tool could be integrated with existing plans to ensure the viability and sustainability of investments made through the Mid-Hudson and Capital District Regional Economic Development Strategies, NYSERDA's Sustainability Plan, and various state agencies.
There are many significant needs in the Hudson watershed that also represent great opportunity for making progress on environmental , economic and social goals represented by the Action Agenda. The Committee wishes to express its appreciation to you for your support of the program - both in the context of this year's budget, the Governor's federal policy objectives, as well as in the attention you and your administration bring to the region.