Gotham Gazette

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We Must Protect the New York-New Jersey Watershed

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On the Hudson (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act is critical for maintaining our fisheries, protecting our wildlife, and conserving our natural resources, urban greenspaces, and coastal resources. This watershed, the land that channels New York and New Jersey’s largest waterways and rainfall into the Hudson-Raritan Harbor Estuary, benefits us in many ways. Restoration efforts for the numerous waterways flowing through the Hudson Valley and New Jersey are scarce and underfunded. Restoring the watershed is an arduous task, due to extreme weather, such as rising air and water temperatures, increasing storms and rainfall, and rising sea levels.

The New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act, a bill under consideration in Congress, seeks to change this fact, introducing a watershed restoration program and a grant program to implement restoration and protection activities for the watershed.

Implementation of the New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act would alleviate some of the detrimental effects of storms caused by climate change and provide more protection for residents and wildlife from future crises. It would also reduce the loss of biodiversity and natural habitat, provide more residents with clean drinking water, and improve the quality of life by providing green spaces for communities to gather and cherish the natural habitat.

Managing the shorelines of the watershed is critical for flood mitigation. The current climate brings about unprecedented crises in natural disasters. Extreme loss of life and billions of dollars followed Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, Lee, and most recently, Ida. This bill recognizes that nature-based flood mitigation and restoring riparian corridors are cost-effective solutions. These nature-based features will maximize the resilience of neighboring communities and natural habitats in this era of changing sea levels and storm risks.

Managing the shorelines is also critical to improving the fish and wildlife habitat. This watershed also supports threatened and endangered species, including the shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. Sustaining and enhancing fish and wildlife restoration and protection activities is pivotal for maintaining biodiversity. We need to meet the ecological needs of the wildlife and their habitat–for their protection and benefit and our own.

Many residents in the watershed region lack environmental justice. The populations living in the watershed region deserve access to clean water and the chance to enjoy the wildlife. Maintaining the water quality will improve opportunities for public access and recreation. The water quality in this region is particularly imperative, as this watershed is the source of drinking water for millions of people on the Mohawk, Raritan, and Hackensack Rivers.

The resources provided by the watershed support a very densely populated region, and they deserve adequate green spaces. The public depends on the improvement of the ecosystems and ecological processes in the watershed for clean water and enjoyment. The Watershed Protection Act aims to engage communities lacking in environmental justice through outreach, education, and community involvement to increase support for the restoration and protection activities in the New York-New Jersey Watershed. It also aims to improve opportunities for personal recreation along rivers and shorefronts within these communities.

New York Congressional Rep. Paul Tonko’s bill currently has 25 cosponsors: 16 from New York and nine from New Jersey, including all of the House representatives from Queens. These representatives from New York and New Jersey, and the rest of us from these two states and beyond, should continue to urge members of Congress to support this bill. It is America’s most crowded watershed.

Just this month, a companion bill of the same name was introduced by Senators Cory Booker, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Many versions of this bill have been in and out of Congress for years, and now more than ever, it is absolutely crucial to get it passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Our government representatives need to work to solve this problem and protect the watershed, for the environment’s sake, as well as our own.

Sarah Quispe is studying at St. John’s University to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in criminology and justice.

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