A Mission to Improve the Health of the Hudson

Hougham and his intern, Ben Zevola, electrofishing in the Sing Sing Kill. Photo supplied

For 30 years, Gareth Hougham conducted scientific research at IBM, but his real passion is improving the health of the Hudson River by taking care of its tributaries, which can be fouled with sewage and other harmful effluent from rogue drainpipes and illegal dumping.  

Once called Hudson Valley Arts and Science, the current name for Hougham’s Ossining-based non-profit, Hudson Valley Stream Conservancy, better reflects its mission. Locally, the conservancy focuses on the water quality of Sparta Creek, Sing Sing Kill and the Hudson River. It also works to improve the health of fish and other aquatic species. 

“These tributaries are essential to the Hudson and arguably, they’re a major source of sewage,” he said. “The infrastructure is aging, and pipes are often located along stream beds, which are always moving, so when one breaks, it oozes. The cracks aren’t necessarily big, but it’s death by a thousand cuts.” 

The organization also studied the possibility of certifying the beach at Louis Engel Park for public swimming with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the county Department of Health, but the bacteria count is too high.  

This is due not so much to the large sewage treatment plant partially hidden behind some trees at the south end of the park, which can’t handle the overflow when it rains. 

Hougham takes a sample while a group of swimmers take a dip to celebrate Spring. Photo by Marc Ferris

“The culprit is the Sing Sing Kill, which is fed by four tributaries about a mile up and flows through a series of concrete culverts on its way to the Hudson River,” said Hougham. 

Many drainpipes of unknown origin empty into this waterway. Some are likely illicit. Polluted water soaks oxygen and chokes the fish. The population of shad, eel and alewife, which are eaten by bigger fish in the Atlantic Ocean, is dropping, he said. 

Hougham is angling to get a grant to study the sewer pipes likely to be leaking into the kill (Dutch for creek). Like detectives, the group would use cameras and nontoxic dyes to determine where the cracks are and then help the village get another grant to fix them. 

The non-profit also worked for seven years to obtain all the approvals required for a pier on the Hudson in Ossining that can accommodate larger educational vessels like the sloop Clearwater. All they need are the funds to build it.  

“A replica of the Half Moon [Henry Hudson’s vessel] and a ship from the War of 1812 couldn’t dock here, the water is too shallow near the shore,” he said.  

For the last decade, the nonprofit has operated a dedicated water quality lab at Purchase College, where Hougham is an adjunct professor. There, interns from high school through post-college graduates are “doing real science that is publishable,” said Hougham. 

Despite all the dangers facing local waterways, nature is resilient. “When we first started researching the Sing Sing Kill, people thought there would be one species in there,” he said. “We found 14.”


1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article about Hudson Valley Stream Conservancy! We are having a stream cleanup on Saturday, May 4th, 2024 (tomorrow)! Come on out and get your feet wet in this beautiful stream that needs some TLC. We are co-hosting this with Riverkeeper and Green Ossining!

    You can register at this Riverkeeper link:

    I hope to see you tomorrow! Thanks!

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About the Author: Marc Ferris