Back in 1966, it was just the dream of one of my folk singing heroes, Pete Seeger. As I sailed in early July with friends from the Flatbush Food Coop on the sloop Clearwater http://www.clearwater.org/about, we listened to the story of Seeger’s determination to save the polluted Hudson River and enact national legislation. He started more than 40 years ago with the Great Hudson River Revival, an on-going music festival that helped raise the funds to build the Clearwater and create a non-profit organization to carry out his mission. The Clearwater is a replica of the original Dutch sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Back in the late 60s, our country’s waterways were suffering from uncontrolled pollution, including the Hudson River in the East and Lake Erie in the Midwest, where I went swimming during a great part of my childhood. In 1969, I remember how it broke my heart when Lake Erie was declared a giant cesspool because of all the contaminants pouring into it from manufacturing. The TheClearwater Sloop today spreads the word of the successes and remaining challenges in protecting our nation’s waterways. Yes, there were big successes – including the enactment of the Clean Water Act and the non-profit’s key role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to remove PCBs from the Hudson River, speeding the final stages of its recovery.
Today most of our major waterways are healing – Lake Erie is no longer considered dead. Yet recovery requires constant vigilance from new threats like hydrofracking. For instance, I learned on the cruise that dangerous levels of PCBs are still being absorbed by fish and some species are more contaminated than others. Upstate in areas of the Hudson River near Troy and Saratoga, where the manufacturing sites originally dumped the PCB waste, it is still too contaminated for fishing. The Hudson is much cleaner as it flows by Manhattan and empties into the harbor, but there will still be reason for concern until all the PCBs are dredged from the waterbeds.
We were on the sloop Clearwater not only to celebrate the cleanup of the Hudson, but to celebrate another unfurling dream – the 35th anniversary of the Flatbush Food Coop in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn – founded when the harmful effects of pesticides on our produce was just being chronicled and organic food was still a new idea. The cruise reminded me again of the importance of impossible dreams! Whether you are an artist, an activist or a business owner, dream on!