On the front lines of Chesapeake Bay restoration with the region’s Riverkeepers
Jul 16, 2015 09:00AM ● Published by Lisa Lewis
Chester Riverkeeper Isabel Junkin Hardesty working with Maryland DNR police. Photo courtesy of Isabel J. Hardesty.
One River at a TimeOn 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Regional Support NetworkIn 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.”
ResourcesTo 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.
Severn Riverkeeper Program
South River Federation
West and Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc.
Magothy River Association
Chester River Association
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
Read more here.