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Third annual Mighty Waters conference draws hundreds to discuss jobs, flood prevention and environmental stewardship

Congressman Paul Tonko hosted his third annual Mighty Waters Conference at Union College on Thursday. The day-long forum included over 250 participants to advance discussions that will lead to a more effective regional vision for waterfront development, job creation and historic preservation throughout the Capital Region. The conference brought together stakeholders representing diverse sectors of the community, including small businesses, recreational groups, federal and state government agencies, municipalities, colleges, heritage organizations, and other community members.

At the conference, Congressman Tonko unveiled his new legislation, H.R. 5927, the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Commission.  Like the previously established Delaware River Basin Commission and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Commission would carry out projects and conduct research on water resources in the basin, which stretches across five states and includes five sub-basins. The proposed Commission would be the nation’s most densely populated and would unite local communities, economies and heritage areas of the Northeast in an integrated and holistic manner. The bill, which was fine-tuned over a period of three years, was introduced after considering input from previous Mighty Waters conferences and countless meetings and visits with area-experts and other community stakeholders.    

“The devastating flood events that occurred in many communities last year should compel us to re-think our connection to the rivers and tributaries throughout the region,” said Congressman Tonko.  “I commend Governor Cuomo for his leadership and attention to our region after the floods hit last year and I welcome today’s news that will continue our productive working partnership. 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. The Commission will help do just that, and is designed to help create jobs and grow our economy.”

Thousands of local groups, organizations and governments currently have jurisdiction over the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin. The lack of cohesion among these groups presents a significant challenge to advancing projects and policies that impact the basin as a whole. The Commission would build upon preexisting work and provide the five states of the basin a single forum in which to work together with the federal government to coordinate and encourage cooperation among the many interested parties who have a stake in the basin.

Carol Collier, Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, served as the keynote speaker for today’s Mighty Waters Conference. The Delaware River Basin Commission was founded in 1961 and stretches 330 miles from the Delaware River’s headwaters near Hancock, NY to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The group was groundbreaking in its origin, serving as the first in the nation’s history to join both state and federal government together as equal partners in a river basin planning, development and regulatory agency.

Collier said: “Rivers do not respect political boundaries. “Therefore the best way to manage water resources is on the river's terms - using watershed boundaries.  River basin commissions like DRBC manage the river system holistically while leveraging scarce resources, avoiding duplication of effort, and maximizing efficiencies among governments.”

Stephen Ainlay, President of Union College and host of Thursday’s conference, said: “The Mohawk is a vital body of water to this region. The Commission has given the Mohawk greater visibility and has urged colleges and universities to help increase our understanding of the river and the watershed through research, teaching, and learning.  A better understanding of the Mohawk will greatly aid our work to revitalize waterfronts in many towns and cities.”

John Cronin, Senior Fellow for Environmental Affairs from Pace University and Beacon Institute Fellow from Clarkson University, said: “As the co-chair of the Mighty Waters Task Force, I am pleased to see the continued progress and interest Congressman Tonko has taken in our region’s waterways. Technology, innovation and information are key to driving decision making and public policy, as well as to train the next generation of environmental leaders. Today’s third annual Mighty Waters is a testament to our combined efforts, recognizing our past successes and setting forward our future challenges.”

Michelle D. Land, Director, Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities and Director, Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental StudiesQ, said: "Higher education has two essential duties: training tomorrow's leaders in the knowledge and skills that will improve the future of human and natural communities, and serving the region it calls home. Committed to furthering both duties within our institutions of the Hudson-Mohawk region, the Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities pledges to leverage its resources to advance Congressman Tonko's Mighty Waters Initiative."

The bill was introduced last week and is awaiting action before the Natural Resources Committee, of which Congressman Tonko is a member.


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