Feasibility Study Identifies Key Opportunities for Hudson River Habitat Restoration

Hudson River Bear Mountain Bridge (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Hudson River originates at the Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains at an elevation of 4,322 feet above sea level. The river then flows southward 315 miles to New York City and empties into the New York Harbor leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson River Valley lies almost entirely within the state of New York, except for its last 22 miles, where it serves as the boundary between New York and New Jersey.

Hudson River Basin (Image by USACE)Approximately 153 miles of the Hudson River, between the Troy Dam to the Atlantic Ocean, is an estuary. An estuary is defined by the USEPA as “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds and storms by landforms such as barrier islands or peninsulas.”

The Hudson River’s estuary encompasses regionally significant habitat for anadromous fish and globally rare tidal freshwater wetland communities and plants, and also supports significant wildlife concentrations. As a whole, the Hudson River provides a unique ecosystem with highly diverse habitats for approximately 85% of New York State’s fish and wildlife species, including over 200 fish species that rely on the Hudson River for spawning, nursery, and forage habitat.

The Hudson is an integral part of New York’s identity and plays a vital role in the lives of the people throughout the area. Long valued as a transportation corridor for the region’s agricultural and industrial goods, and heavily used by the recreation and tourism industries, the Hudson plays a major role in the local economy. It also provides drinking water for more than 100,000 people.

At the end of the American Revolution, the population in the Hudson River Valley began to grow. The introduction of railroad travel in 1851 further accelerated development in the area. Industrial buildings were erected along the river, such as brick and cement manufacturing, which was followed by residential building. Along with the aforementioned development, came the construction of approximately 1,600 dams and thousands of culverts throughout the Hudson River.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), these human activities have significantly degraded the integrity of the Hudson River ecosystem and cumulatively changed the morphology and hydrology of the river. Over time, these changes have resulted in large-scale losses of critical shallow water and intertidal wetland habitats, and fragmented and disconnected habitats for migratory and other species. Most of this loss and impact has occurred in the upper third portion of the estuary.

As part of the effort to restore the vital river ecosystem, the USACE New York District launched a Hudson River Habitat Restoration Feasibility Study, which helps to establish and evaluate baseline conditions, develop restoration goals and objectives, and identify key restoration opportunities. Princeton Hydro participated in data collection and analysis, conceptual restoration designs, and preparation of the USACE Environmental Assessment for the Hudson River Habitat Restoration Ecosystem Restoration Draft Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment.

Basic map depicting project sites (Created by Princeton Hydro)The study area includes the Hudson River Valley from the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge downstream to the Troy Lock and Dam upstream. The primary restoration objectives include restoring a mosaic of interconnected, large river habitats and restoring lost connectivity between the Hudson River and adjacent ecosystems.

A total of six sites were evaluated using topographic surveys, installation and monitoring of tide gauges, evaluation of dam and fish barrier infrastructure, and field data collection and analysis to support Evaluation of Planned Wetlands (EPW) and Habitat Suitability Indices (HSI) functional assessment models. Literature reviews were also completed for geotechnical, hazardous toxicity radioactive waste, and aquatic organism passage measures.

Multiple alternatives for each of the six sites were created in addition to the preparation of conceptual designs, quantity take-offs, and cost estimates for construction, monitoring and adaptive management, and long-term operation and maintenance activities.

Princeton Hydro also prepared an environmental assessment in accordance with NEPA standards, addressing all six sites along the Hudson River and its tributaries. This assessment served to characterize existing conditions, environmental impacts of the preferred Proposed Action and No Action Alternatives, and regional cumulative environmental impacts. Our final report was highlighted by USACE at the 2019 Planning Community of Practice (PCoP) national workshop at the Kansas City District as an example of a successfully implemented Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) project.

USACE’s specific interest in Hudson River restoration stems from the aforementioned dramatic losses of regional ecosystems, the national significance of those ecosystems, and the apparent and significant opportunity for measurable improvement to the degraded ecological resources in the river basin.

The feasibility study is among the first of several critical steps in restoring the Hudson River’s ecosystem function and dynamic processes, and reestablishing the attributes of a natural, functioning, and self-regulated river system. Stay tuned for more updates on the Hudson River restoration efforts.