The River that Flows Both Ways

The fresh water of the Hudson River ebbs and flows with the tides of the Atlantic, meaning that it’s actually a tidal estuary. The direction of the current changes four times in a 24 hour period – a fact we were reminded of our first day off the Erie Canal. We worked on our computers until 11 and then set off to the south right into strong north flowing current. After fighting the flow for a few miles and guzzling a bit of gas (our mast wasn’t back up at this point) we found a place to anchor and wait out the tide.

The Hudson’s tributaries funnel fresh water into salty ocean water, meaning the currents we’re navigating as I type are made up of saltier and saltier water as we make our way south. This boundary between brackish and fresh slowly makes its way northwards as sea level rises. I hadn’t noticed any signs that we’d left freshwater behind until our visit to the River Keeper where we learned that a nearby town recently proposed building a desalination plant on the Hudson in part to adapt to the threat of rising saltiness of the river at their location. So there you have it, we’re not on the Great Lakes anymore!

The waters of the Hudson carry kayakers and feed bald eagles while also cooling nuclear reactors at the Indian Point Energy Center (power plant) and ferrying massive barges full of crude oil. The estuary was a vibrantly productive multi-use area long before the first Western settlers arrived in the 1600’s, but its use in the last few hundred years has been characterized by a legacy of pollution. From coal tar to radioactive isotopes to PCBs to raw sewage, a lot of nasty things have been dumped in this river. The good news is that many residents of the valley are wholly invested in balancing the needs of industry and infrastructure with the estuary’s rehabilitation.

Numerous environmental groups work to protect the area, and we have met with four of them: Clearwater, Hudson River Keeper, the Center for Urban Renewal at Beczak at Sarah Lawrence, and Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Science Barge. Conservation efforts on the Hudson in the last 40 years have been a model for other groups around the nation and world, and landmark legislation like the Clean Water and Air acts of the 1970’s gained much of their early grassroots support thanks to some of the groups I just listed.

 We're excited to share the wealth of insight we've gained through a week of interviews, so check back over the next week for several posts on the Lower Hudson Valley!