Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Hudson River Needs a New Deal Cleaning

(WPA workers installing a new sewer line in Elkton, Maryland, in February of 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The cleanliness of the Hudson River has improved over the past few decades, but it still has a long way to go - as the title of a new report by the Riverkeeper makes painfully clear: "How's the Water? 2015: Fecal Contamination in the Hudson River and its Tributaries."  

There are two basic problems with the Hudson River. First, raw sewage is dumped directly into the river, especially after it rains, because of overstressed combined sewer systems (systems that handle both human waste and storm water runoff). Second, like the rest of the country, New York and New Jersey's wastewater infrastructure is underfunded and aging. As a result, "The river acts as a home for various strains of fecal bacteria that can cause everything from swimmer’s ear and skin rashes to pneumonia, blood infections, urinary infections and diarrhea" ("Hudson River called a health risk,", July 5, 2015).
During the New Deal, massive investments were made in American infrastructure. For example, the WPA installed 1,645 miles of new storm and sanitary sewer lines in New York, and 827 miles in New Jersey. WPA workers also constructed 1,021 new sewage treatment plants across the nation, and improved nearly 500 others. (See the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, pp. 132 and 136).
We could do the same today (and even better, because of improved technology) were it not for the fact that Republican politicians keep trying to force tax-breaks-for-the-rich down our throats, and were it not for the fact that Republican politicians are constantly trying to divert resources away from domestic issues... and towards the expansion of America's role as policeman of the world. See, for example, the news article "Congress stays on course for another shutdown showdown," Huffington Post, July 7, 2015, where it is reported that "The Republican budget calls for spending that eases sequestration on defense, but not on other areas..." (and keep in mind that the United States already spends nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined - as Politifact pointed out when disputing a claim that it was more than all other countries combined).
In any event, it's clear that the Hudson River needs a good and thorough New Deal cleaning. 

(WPA workers cleaning the Pocomoke River, in Worcester County, Maryland, in September of 1937. All across the nation, the WPA cleaned waterways, sealed old mines (which reduces acid pollution in streams), and planted 8 million bushels of oysters (nature's water filters). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

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