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On the front lines of Chesapeake Bay restoration with the region’s Riverkeepers

Jul 16, 2015 09:00AM ● By Lisa Lewis

Chester Riverkeeper Isabel Junkin Hardesty working with Maryland DNR police. Photo courtesy of Isabel J. Hardesty.

One River at a Time

On the front lines of Chesapeake Bay restoration with the region’s Riverkeepers

By Lisa A. Lewis

When a group of commercial and recreational fishermen joined together to save the Hudson River in 1966, they couldn’t possibly have imagined that their actions would ultimately help launch a worldwide movement. But that is exactly what happened. The group, known as the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, realized that industrial pollution posed a serious threat—not only to the river but also to their livelihood and the health of their families. So they decided to take action and became staunch advocates. The group fought to ensure that environmental laws were enforced, challenging the industries that were polluting the river and holding them accountable for their actions.

In 1983, they hired the first full-time Hudson Riverkeeper to patrol the river, restore the fisheries, and promote citizen advocacy. And the rest is history: The group’s collective efforts had a profound impact, forcing the government to comply with environmental laws and bringing violators to justice, which, in turn, helped restore the health of the Hudson River. Their success paved the way for other like-minded citizens—leading to the creation of similar grassroots programs all around the world—and in 1999, Waterkeeper Alliance was officially born.
Severn Riverkeeper Fred Kelly discusses a storm water mitigation and watershed restoration project on site at Cabin Branch. Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
The fastest-growing environmental movement, Waterkeeper Alliance consists of more than 240 Waterkeepers who patrol rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways on six continents. Its mission is vital: to support communities in their fight to protect the world’s waterways.

“Local Waterkeeper organizations and activists play a unique and sophisticated role within the environmental community—serving as the investigator, advocate, scientist, educator, and lawyer for their body of water,” says Marc Yaggi, executive director for Waterkeeper Alliance. “But most important, they are concerned citizens and members of their communities who are devoted to protecting local water resources on a full-time basis.”

Riverkeepers in Maryland

As members of Waterkeeper Alliance, the Riverkeepers in Maryland are an integral part of the organization’s ongoing mission. Indeed, they work tirelessly to protect the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Their work is all-inclusive and takes many forms, including water quality monitoring, restoration projects, advocacy for the enforcement of stronger environmental laws, education, public outreach, and fundraising. And as Riverkeepers defend their waterways, Waterkeeper Alliance is there—supporting their efforts and serving as a united voice in the global movement to protect all bodies of water.

Although 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, many bodies of water are still polluted and unsafe, and much work needs to be done to restore them to health. While the overall mission of Maryland Riverkeeper programs is the same—to clean up the rivers for present and future generations—each organization is unique and sets specific goals to address the issues affecting its waterway. In addition to the Riverkeepers and staff, the programs rely on volunteers whose time and efforts greatly support their mission.
Paul Spadaro has been president of MRA since 1995. He believes strongly in education and strives to inspire the younger generation to step up and become stewards for the environment. Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
The following is a snapshot of some of Maryland’s Riverkeeper programs (and one volunteer organization), both in Anne Arundel County and on the Eastern Shore, and their respective Riverkeepers (and president)—highlighting the vital work they do in their effort to achieve Waterkeeper Alliance’s vision of “swimmable, drinkable, fishable waterways worldwide.”

Severn Riverkeeper Program (Annapolis)

Photos by Tony Lewis Jr.

Founded in 2002, the Severn Riverkeeper Program strives to identify sources of pollution and find solutions—with the overriding goal of making the water clean and safe for swimming once again. Headed by Fred Kelly, the Severn Riverkeeper, the organization prides itself on being results-driven and consists of four main programs: water quality monitoring, watershed restoration, advocacy, and public outreach. The Severn Riverkeeper Program helps educate residents, policy makers, and developers about the issues facing the river, including pollution, stormwater runoff, contamination, and habitat loss. They also serve as advocates for the river by identifying violations and legally challenging developers when warranted to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

An environmental attorney with more than 40 years of experience, Kelly credits legal action with providing virtually all advances in environmental protection. He is proud of the aggressive nature of the Severn Riverkeeper Program, particularly its willingness to file lawsuits when necessary. In fact, Kelly stopped Pepco from building a nuclear power plant on the Potomac River. His actions were a resounding success and saved the most important striped bass spawning area in the Chesapeake Bay. Kelly lives on Saltworks Creek with his wife, Nancy, and has a son and a daughter.

South River Federation (Edgewater)

With its inspiring goal “to protect, preserve, restore, and celebrate the South River and its independent living community,” it’s apparent that the South River Federation (SRF) has a great affinity for the river and is dedicated to improving its health. Founded in 1999, the organization utilizes a holistic approach to clean up the river, incorporating water quality monitoring and stream restoration. In fact, Captain Diana Muller, South Riverkeeper and director of scientific monitoring, recently participated in the Church Creek Initiative, a project to rehabilitate the Church Creek ecosystem from headwaters to tidal waters, and performed in-depth scientific monitoring of these sites. SRF is also committed to the legal aspects of restoring the river and advocates for stronger environmental laws.
Severn Riverkeeper Diana Miller routinely moniters waterfront and shoreline activity that could affect the health of the river. Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
Muller became the South Riverkeeper in 2008. She has taken samples from most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—from the Susquehanna River to the mouth of the Bay. Muller has 20 years of experience in riverine and estuarine water quality, ecology, microbiology, and environmental law. For Muller, who earned her Captain’s license in 2011, being a Riverkeeper is more than a job; it’s her passion and her lifestyle. She lives with her husband, Andrew, in Selby-on-the-Bay and has two children.

West and Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc. (Shady Side)

Founded in 2005 by Bob Gallagher, a former attorney, West and Rhode Riverkeeper works to stop pollution, enforce environmental laws, promote restoration, and advocate for stronger environmental policy. Gallagher served as Riverkeeper until July 2008 and then as executive director through 2009. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Directors until the end of 2014. Jeff Holland, the current Riverkeeper and executive director, is pleased with how the organization is evolving, especially its success in increasing public access to the water. Thanks to a partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Park Service, Franklin Point State Park, a 477-acre site in Shady Side, is now open to the public for recreation. West and Rhode Riverkeeper also offers pump-out service for recreational boaters. This program—the only one of its kind on the Western Shore—is supported by a grant from the DNR.

Holland, who took over the position of Riverkeeper in January 2014, served as the executive director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum from 2001–2012, where he launched an environmental education program that now reaches 5,000 students each year. He is a Maryland delegate to the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Chesapeake Bay Program and a commissioner on the City of Annapolis Heritage Commission. Holland and his wife, Louise White, have lived in Annapolis for more than 30 years and have one daughter.

Magothy River Association (Severna Park)

Established in 1946, Magothy River Association (MRA) is an all-volunteer organization that represents approximately 46 communities along the Magothy River watershed. Although MRA doesn’t currently have a Riverkeeper, they have applied and are exploring their options. (To start a program, prospective Riverkeeper candidates must submit an application to Waterkeeper Alliance for consideration.) But for Paul Spadaro, president of MRA, not having a Riverkeeper doesn’t seem to make a difference. MRA works to restore the health of the river by implementing a variety of projects, including water monitoring, oyster gardening, floating gardens, and a science diver program, in which divers monitor oyster beds and other aquatic life. Currently, MRA is overseeing projects to improve public access to Beachwood Park and creating an interactive Magothy River Water Trail.

A retired aeronautical cartographer, Spadaro has been president of MRA since 1995. He believes strongly in education and strives to inspire the younger generation to step up and become stewards for the environment. In fact, MRA offers two scholarships each year to students at Anne Arundel Community College to help train future environmental leaders, with the hope that they will pass on their appreciation of the environment to the next generation. Spadaro lives with his wife, Sandy, on Cattail Creek in Severna Park and has two sons.

Chester River Association (Chestertown)

When Kent and Queen Anne’s County citizens realized how polluted the Chester River had become, they took action. In 1986, they founded the Chester River Association (CRA), so they could serve as stewards for the river through restoration, advocacy, and education. The organization hired its first Riverkeeper in 2002. Although CRA has grown throughout the years, its goal remains the same: to protect and restore the health of the Chester River. To achieve this goal, Isabel Junkin Hardesty, the Chester Riverkeeper, and CRA devote their efforts to reducing sources of pollution, supporting legislation that positively impacts the watershed, and educating citizens about issues that affect the river. CRA also works closely with local farmers. In fact, Hardesty particularly enjoys partnering with farmers to develop and test innovative methods of reducing pollution from agricultural practices while maintaining economically viable farms.
Photo courtesy of West and Rhode Riverkeeper
Hardesty became the Chester Riverkeeper in November 2013. She is currently working to establish a No Discharge Zone on the Chester (where the discharge of sewage is prohibited), conduct an assessment of the health of all the Chester’s tributaries to guide future restoration efforts, and implement two large-scale tree planting projects on county school properties. Before becoming Riverkeeper, Hardesty worked as CRA’s Policy Specialist for two and a half years. She and her husband, Mike, live in Centreville and recently welcomed a baby boy.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (Easton)

Founded in 2008, the goal of Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) is to restore the waterways that comprise the Choptank River watershed, Eastern Bay, and the Miles and Wye Rivers. The organization serves as a strong voice for the health of these tributaries through its education, outreach, and restoration programs. MRC regularly monitors water quality, works to reduce sources of pollution, and advocates for the enforcement of stronger environmental legislation. The organization is especially proud of its relationships with local farmers and works closely with them to identify sources of agriculture-related pollution and find effective solutions. MRC employs two Riverkeepers: Jeff Horstman, the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper and deputy director, and Matt Pluta, the Choptank Riverkeeper. (Pluta recently took over the position and was unable to participate in this article.)

Horstman, who became the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper in November 2013, is committed to the stewardship of the Wye River, and his family has donated land along its shores for conservation purposes. He is proud of his work on the Phosphate Management Tool, which can reduce phosphorus loss from the soil into waterways. Many people believe this tool represents the best chance to decrease agriculture-related pollution. Horstman and his wife, Beth, live in Queenstown on the Wye River and have three children.
Photo courtesy of West and Rhode Riverkeeper

A Regional Support Network

In addition to being part of Waterkeeper Alliance and receiving support on a global scale, the Riverkeepers who work in Maryland’s communities are also members of a regional organization, Waterkeepers Chesapeake. A coalition of 18 individual Riverkeeper programs within the Chesapeake Bay watershed that encompasses five states as well as Washington, D.C., Waterkeepers Chesapeake works to fight pollution and advocates for clean water.

“Waterkeepers Chesapeake [serves as] a powerful, collective force for clean water,” says Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “By combining our resources and organizing regional action, Waterkeepers Chesapeake harnesses the individual strengths of member organizations, so, as a whole, we more effectively fight for safe and healthy waterways in the region while increasing the capacity of individual groups. Working together gives all of our organizations—and the entire Waterkeeper movement—more influence in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.”



To learn more about the worldwide and regional Waterkeeper organizations and the Maryland Riverkeeper programs and organizations, visit their websites. And remember: Volunteers are always welcome, so get involved.

Waterkeeper Alliance

Waterkeepers Chesapeake

Severn Riverkeeper Program

South River Federation

West and Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc.

Magothy River Association

Chester River Association

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy


One-on-One with Maryland Riverkeepers

Although it’s important to understand the Waterkeeper movement and the role that Maryland Riverkeepers play in restoring the rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, that is only part of the story. So What’s Up? decided to go behind the scenes and ask the Riverkeepers about their work, and more importantly, how much progress is being made in their quest to restore the rivers. Read more here.