Hudson River

The Gotham Gazette has a good article about the state of our city's waterways. The good news is that they are less polluted than they used to be:

Swimming and fishing are all right in the Hudson and East Rivers, too. "The water is cleaner now than it was ten years ago -- and by some estimates 100 years ago. It is perfectly safe and sanitary to swim in it," says the Manhattan Island Foundation, which sponsors an annual swim around Manhattan.

Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society, which looks after shorelines , says eating fish such as striped bass, bluefish and other game species from the waterways is generally safe. Because of pollutants that rest on the bottom, he recommends staying away from bottom feeders. "Things like American eels that live in the bottom of the bay you don't want to eat. You don't want to eat shellfish. Everything else, use common sense. Don't eat a lot, and make sure it's cleaned properly." He recommends taking off the skin and fat layer because that's where "pesticides and heavy metal accumulate."

The bad news is that the smaller waterways and canals around the city are still dangerously contaminated:

The report details pollution from industry and storm water discharge in Newton Creek, which marks the border between Queens and Brooklyn and flows into the East River. Improvements to the creek are scheduled for completion in 2007.

The infamous Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn remains polluted and even smelly at times for the same reason, reports Crain's New York Business. Developers who want to build housing along the canal are reportedly daunted by the city's recent postponement of the canal's cleanup.

The Bronx River also faces storm runoff that pollutes other New York City waterways. That's a problem for Jamaica Bay, too. There are still algae blooms on occasion, caused by an excess of nitrogen from the runoffs. When the algae die, it sucks oxygen out of the water, and fish leave or die. "The bay is also losing 50 acres of marshland a year, and no one has figured out why so far," Mundy says. Shell fishing is still prohibited.

We're going to be staying away from skinny-dipping in the East River for a couple of more years-- but if you are game enough to jump in, now is the time to start training. The annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (28.5 miles!) is only seven months away! [Related: Seinfeld Episode "The Nap" where Kramer swims in the East River and becomes befouled.]