Tonko looks to foster cooperation on watershed issues

When Tropical Storm Irene dumped nearly 12 inches of rain in the region in late August, the flooding

When Tropical Storm Irene dumped nearly 12 inches of rain in the region in late August, the flooding that ensued showed the interconnected nature of the Hudson River and Mohawk River watershed.

Runoff from the torrential downpour pumped into the Mohawk, which swelled to cause millions of dollars in damages among the waterfront communities in Schenectady and Montgomery counties. And the surging Mohawk led to flooding branching out from its confluence with the Hudson, including flooding in the city of Troy.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, recalled his tour of the flooded areas of the Capital Region and how the devastation was a reminder of how the two rivers ultimately connect the communities settled along their banks, including the ones in four other neighboring states located in their watershed. Yet despite this linked nature, there seems to be a lack of cohesion in policy and an absence of a unified vision among these stakeholder communities.

“After the flooding last year, it became increasingly apparent that there’s an interconnectedness that unites us,” he said Thursday. “We need to have a plan that is thoughtful and collaborative with all these five states.”

Tonko is now calling for the creation of the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Commission in legislation he proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee last week. The new commission would issue projects and conduct research in a basin that would stretch from the Capital Region through parts of Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Tonko said the new organization would be similar to the Delaware River Basin Commission, which stretches 330 miles from Hancock in New York to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. Founded in 1961, the commission helped state and federal agencies collaborate on river basin planning, development and regulatory efforts.

“We not only need to better adapt our infrastructure to be more resilient to floods, but we must also integrate improvements in water quality and wildlife habitats into our plans for the redevelopment of waterfronts,” he said. “The commission will help do just that and is designed to help create jobs and grow our economy.”

Tonko announced his proposal for the commission during the annual Mighty Waters conference at Union College on Thursday.

In a related development, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of State to create a working group aimed at promoting community revitalization, environmental sustainability and flood-hazard risk reduction in the Mohawk River Valley.

The group will support the goals of the Mighty Waters initiative and support the work of regional economic development councils. The working group will collaborate with businesses, local governments, academic institutions, federal agencies and non-governmental organizations in order to position the region for federal resources.

“Sustainable revitalization of the Mohawk Valley is the key to our state’s future,” said Secretary of State Cesar Perales, who is co-chairing the group with DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.

Tonko’s initiative also will focus on fostering a collaboration among academia located within the 13,500-square-mile watershed. John Cronin, the co-chairman of the Mighty Waters Task Force, said 58 of the 116 colleges and universities located in this area have agreed to be in a partnership to assist research efforts.

“We have an untapped source of power that could make this commission much more competitive with ones in the rest of the nation,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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