Saw Mill River Summit Brings Attention to River's Needs, Potential

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Environmental groups call for plan to clean up and improve access to the Saw Mill River

Organizations focused on the health of the Saw Mill River and its importance to the 11 communities in its watershed Thursday called for a new countywide watershed planning effort, following a summit that brought together local leaders and environmental groups.

The Saw Mill River Summit, organized by the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), Riverkeeper, and Groundwork Hudson Valley, highlighted the results of community water quality monitoring; actions taken to improve water quality, public access and habitat; and how a watershed planning effort could amplify local efforts. The groups also made a renewed commitment to work together under the umbrella of the Saw Mill River Coalition, and to bolster that effort with new collaborations and programming.

The half-day event at the Center for Urban River at Beczak in Yonkers was attended by about 65 people, including representatives from the NYS Assembly, Westchester County Board of Legislators, seven municipalities in the watershed, and a number of local non-profits and volunteer groups. The Saw Mill River watershed includes New Castle, Mount Pleasant, Pleasantville, Greenburgh, Tarrytown, Elmsford, Irvington, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on Hudson, and Yonkers.

“We were thrilled to see so much support and enthusiasm from a wide range of people within the watershed,” said Ryan Palmer, CURB Director. “At CURB we are committed to serving as a hub for all those who seek to advance sustainable solutions for the Saw Mill and other urban rivers in the Hudson Valley.”

Coalition members said they want to advance a watershed planning effort in coordination with local municipalities. Watershed plans assess conditions and define and prioritize projects to achieve goals for improving conditions, such as water quality and public access—two issues highlighted at the summit. Westchester County Department of Planning, who have completed plans for the Bronx River and other watersheds around the county, presented at the Summit and are in a position to seek state funding and lead an effort for the Saw Mill.

“Working together on the Saw Mill River and having people invest in their part of the river, is critical to the sense of community ownership of the river. As one mid-western farmer said ‘Boundaries don’t protect rivers, people do,’” said Ann-Marie Mitroff, River Program Director at Groundwork Hudson Valley, which started the Saw Mill River Coalition in 2002.

Jennifer Epstein, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Scientist added, “By working with community scientists to gather water quality data about the Saw Mill River, I’ve seen firsthand how deeply people care about it. They want to help restore a healthy river for wildlife, and they also feel a direct benefit when they visit the river. Daylighting has brought a long stretch of the Saw Mill back into view after decades of being buried, but much still needs to be done to improve water quality throughout the watershed. The health of the Hudson depends on the health of the rivers and creeks that feed it.”

The event was made possible by a grant from the Westchester Community Foundation. By engaging communities in a citizen-science water quality monitoring program and collaborating on joint trainings, local workshops, and regional outreach, it supports goals of the EPA-funded Lower Hudson River Urban Rivers Collaborative. The collaborative is coordinated by CURB, and joined by Riverkeeper, Bronx River Alliance, and the Hudson River Watershed Alliance with the community watershed groups they support, such as the Sparkill Creek Alliance and the Pocantico River Alliance.

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.