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Hudson River Estuary Watershed

Is the Hudson Getting Cleaner?

Water quality is not what it was when Henry Hudson's Half Moon sailed up the river 400 years ago, but it has improved over the last 40 years. The Pure Waters Bond Act passed by New York State voters in 1965 and the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 were milestones in cleaning up a river that in many places was little more than an open sewer. Since then, the Hudson has become a regional asset - its waters attractive to boaters, anglers, and swimmers as well as fish, birds, and wildlife. The federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 protects water quality for people and animals by banning cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads that are a source of pollution and accumulate toxins. Despite these successes, threats and problems remain.

map of the Hudson estuary watershed
The Hudson River estuary and its watershed

The Hudson River Estuary Program's State of the Hudson 2020 report gives an overview of how the river is doing. It discusses water quality in a broad context including the streams that flow into the estuary, the watershed that sustains the Hudson and its tributaries, the health of mainstream and watershed habitats, and the status of "signature" species like striped bass as well as creatures like salamanders and turtles.

DEC has undertaken major initiatives to achieve the clean water targets of the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda 2021-2025. For example, more than $7 million in grants have been awarded to address long-standing issues with combined sewer overflows and disinfection of sewage treatment plant discharges in Albany and the Capital Region.

Improving Water Quality - A Watershed Approach

A watershed is the land area that drains to a common body of water, such as a river, stream, lake or estuary. The Hudson River Estuary watershed includes the watersheds of many smaller streams that flow into it (called tributaries). Land use within the watershed directly impacts the quality of water downstream.

brook in autumn forest

Watershed Management

Watersheds should be considered as key geographic units when making local land use and water resource decisions. Development or disturbance to natural areas can translate into water quality impairments and biological stresses. A DEC 30 year trends report on water quality, released in 2004, estimated that over half of the streams in the Hudson River watershed have some degree of impairment and that more streams have declined in water quality than improved. According to DEC, stormwater runoff is the leading source of impairment to Hudson River tributaries. DEC estimates that there are more than 200 direct tributaries to the Hudson River.

Through the watershed planning process, community leaders, watershed advocates, scientists and local governments work together to develop watershed conservation strategies. Watershed-based planning is the foundation of the Hudson River Estuary Program's watershed initiative. It focuses on protecting healthy streams before they become degraded, while also striving to improve water quality in impacted streams.

Tools for Protecting Water Quality

  • Grants for watershed planning and implementation are available from the Hudson River Estuary Program.
  • Stream Buffer Protection and Restoration for Hudson River Tributaries: Our Trees for Tribs program provides free technical support and plantings to landowners interested in restoring riparian buffers (transition areas between streams and uplands). Protecting and restoring these buffer areas is vital to the health of waterways.
  • Aquatic Connectivity and Barrier Removal: Dams and culverts can disrupt important hydrologic processes and disconnect the aquatic habitats used by fish and other organisms. The Hudson River Estuary Program works with partners to assess and prioritize barriers for removal or mitigation to reconnect fish and wildlife habitat
Three Trees for Tribs volunteers planting a tree along a stream
Volunteers planting a tree at a Trees for Tribs site

Hudson River Estuary Trees for Tribs

The Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs Program helps to protect and restore streamside buffers. Healthy buffers, comprised of native trees, shrubs, and grasses, help to:

  • Reduce water pollution
  • Reduce erosion and flooding damage
  • Provide habitat for fish and other wildlife

How Does the Program Work?

Trees for Tribs offers free native trees and shrubs for qualifying planting projects in the Hudson River estuary watershed (PDF). Program staff may also be able to assist with plant selection, designing a planting plan, and other technical assistance to help your project succeed.
Note: If your project is outside of the Hudson Valley, please visit New York State's Trees for Tribs Program. Also check out Buffer in A Bag to apply for a free bag of 25 bare-root tree and shrub seedlings.

How Do I Apply?

If you own or manage property near a stream in the Hudson estuary watershed (PDF), you can apply for assistance from Trees for Tribs. To apply, complete and submit an application (PDF). If your project is selected, you will be responsible for preparing, planting and maintaining the site. We encourage applicants to recruit local volunteers to help with planting and maintenance.

The application deadlines are March 1 for a planting in spring, and August 1 for planting in the fall. We recommend that you to apply before the application deadline, especially if you have a large site or you want to request specific plant species.

View the Planting Project Guidelines (PDF) for more details

Download the Hudson Estuary Trees For Tribs Application (PDF)


Trees for Tribs relies on volunteers to help with planting projects, which take place throughout the spring and fall. The applicant for each site recruits volunteers to help staff with planting. To find out more about planting young trees and shrubs, please see the Guide to Planting Your Trees and Shrubs (PDF, 8 MB).

Plant Care

Some planted sites also need maintenance. View our Maintenance Guide (PDF, 8 MB). This work generally requires a longer commitment from volunteers (often multiple workdays) and the ability to work independently without help from Trees for Tribs staff. If you are interested in this work, please e-mail with details about when you are available and where you are willing to travel. We will do our best to match you up with a local site.

Watch a video about Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs and check out other videos on DEC YouTube.