Waterkeeper Alliance

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Waterkeeper Alliance

The Waterkeeper Alliance is an umbrella organization consisting of 86 Waterkeeper programs (as of 2002) located throughout North and Central America. The mission of the Alliance is to restore degraded waters and to protect aquatic environments and is based on the philosophy that protection of a community's resources requires the daily vigilance of its citizens.

The Waterkeeper concept started in 1966 on the Hudson River in New York, when a coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen was formed to protect the Hudson from pollution . The coalition constructed a boat to patrol the river; in 1983 this coalition, calling itself the Riverkeepers, using funds from successful lawsuits, hired a full-time public advocate and began filing lawsuits against municipal and industrial polluters. By 1998, after over 100 successful legal actions were filed against Hudson River polluters, resulting in $1 billion in remediation costs, the Hudson River was once again a productive ecosystem . The Hudson River program was modeled after the British Isle riverkeepers, or game wardens, who were responsible for protection of private trout and salmon streams from poaching for estates, manors, and private fishing clubs.

New ecosystem protection programs, with names such as Lakekeeper, Baykeeper, Coastkeeper, as well as Riverkeeper, have been established, based on the Hudson River model. In 1992, these programs joined to form the National Alliance of River, Sound, and Baykeepers, which was renamed the Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999. Responsibilities of the Alliance include overseeing new Waterkeeper programs, licensing the use of Waterkeeper names, organizing conferences, working on issues common to Waterkeeper programs, and serving as a clearinghouse and networking center for information and strategy exchange among the programs. In 2002, the Waterkeeper Alliance was working with local advocates to establish Keeper programs in Belize, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, and the Philippines. The president of the Waterkeeper Alliance is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who also serves as the chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeepers.

A Waterkeeper program may utilize a variety of methods to protect a water resource, including water quality monitoring, participation in planning organizations, public education, development of technical solutions and remedies to problems, and litigation to ensure enforcement of environmental regulations and laws. Since most environmental laws contain citizen suit provisions, the ability of citizens to prosecute polluters is an important tool of Keeper organizations. Another essential component of a Waterkeeper program is the employment of a "Keeper," who is a full-time, privately funded, non-governmental ombudsman who acts as a public advocate for the identified water body. The Keeper is aided by a network of local fishermen, environmental experts, and concerned citizens, who act as a "neighborhood" watch program. Most Waterkeeper programs patrol and monitor their water bodies regularly, by wading with hip boots or using boats ranging in size from canoes to research vessels. Every water body has its own set of challenges, and each Waterkeeper program develops unique strategies to address those challenges.

Waterkeeper Alliance members are concerned with many different types of water issues. The Waterkeepers of Wisconsin are working to prevent water bottling companies from using spring water. Spring water is a high quality source of surface water, as it is cold, oxygenated, and drinkable. If spring water is used commercially, the Wisconsin Waterkeepers are concerned that surface water, without recharge by spring water, will become polluted as a larger proportion of recharge would be runoff from fields, barnyards, and roads.

The California Coastkeeper Alliance (CCKA), a group composed of the Baja California Coastkeeper, San Diego Baykeeper, Orange County Coastkeeper, Santa Monica Baykeeper, Ventura Baykeeper, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, is participating in a Regional Kelp Restoration Project in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Community Based Restoration Program. Kelp forests provide homes and shelters for a wide diversity of ocean organisms, including many commercial and sport fishing species . Kelp is also harvested for the extraction of algin, which is used as a thickening, stabilizing, and smoothing agent in a variety of commercial products. However, nearly 80% of the kelp canopy area along the southern California coast was lost between 1967 and 1999. Kelp losses are attributed intensified winter storms, low nutrients, and warmer sea surface temperatures associated with El Niño events. Increased turbidity, sedimentation and pollution from wastewater discharges, increasing human populations, coastal development, and storm runoff negatively affect the ability of kelp to recover naturally. Also over-fishing of species that prey on sea urchins also affects kelp forests, for without predators, sea urchin populations expand; sea urchins using kelp as a food source can decimate entire forests, creating "urchin barrens." The CCKA restoration project involves growing kelp in the Kelp Mariculture Laboratory, planting juvenile plants, and maintaining kelp forests. Another component of the project is providing portable kelp nurseries to schools throughout southern California to teach students about the importance of kelp to the coastal ecosystem.

In 2002, the Cook Inletkeeper of Alaska joined with other environmental activist groups in a citizen's lawsuit under the United States Clean Water Act to force the United States Department of the Army and the Department of Defense to address pollution and safety hazards associated with past and present bombing of Eagle River Flats. More than 10,000 unexploded bombs and munitions have contaminated Eagle River Flats. The munitions release chemicals such as RDX, 2,4-DNT, toxic metals, and other explosive and propellant compounds that present a danger to wildlife and people. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed Fort Richardson on the National Priorities (Superfund) List of polluted sites in 1994, but the area has not yet been remediated.

The New Jersey Baykeeper is sponsoring an oyster gardening project where volunteers are growing oysters at their own private piers and marinas. Upon reaching sexual maturity, the oysters are transplanted to estuaries, where they serve as spawning stocks to increase the wild population. The Baykeeper provides seed oysters to volunteers, conducts workshops to teach volunteers how to grow oysters, and places oysters in the estuaries. Oyster populations in the New Jersey and New York areas have decreased due to over-harvesting, pollution, siltation , and disease.

The Columbia Riverkeeper has been working with other groups of activists in a fight to remove the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in southern Washington. It is estimated that removal of the Condit Dam would result in recovery of more than 4,000 salmon and steelhead in the White Salmon River per year. The Dam, owned by PacificCorps, is 90 years old, cracking, and produces only 14 megawatts of energy. In 1999, PacificCorps agreed to remove the Condit Dam by 2007. However, the agreement must be approved by the Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission, and county commissioners have suggested that the local county government operate the dam in place of PacificCorps.

The Hudson Bay Riverkeeper is working with government, business, civic, and environmental leaders to shut down the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in order that a full review of the plant's operating safety procedures and its emergency preparedness plans. Indian Point is located 30 mi (48 km) from New York City, with 20 million people (20% of the population of the United States) living within 50 mi (80 km) radius of the plant. It is a potential terrorist target due to its proximity to major financial centers, major transportation centers, and drinking water reservoirs for Westchester County and New York City, and due to its inventory of highly radioactive materials. In 2000 Indian Point was given a "red" designation by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission , giving it the highest risk assessment . The rating was based on operators' failure to detect flaws in a steam generator tube before a radiation leak. In December 2001, Indian Point received a notice of "substantial" safety concerns from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when four control room crews failed to pass annual re-qualification tests.

The San Diego Baykeeper has been focusing on shipyard pollution since its formation in 1995. San Diego Bay, with 56% of its sediments acutely toxic to marine organisms, was ranked in 1996 as the second most toxic of 18 United States bays studied by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. For ten years, the Bay has been posted with warnings to avoid eating bay fish because of elevated levels of mercury , arsenic , and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Major contributors of contamination to the bay include shipbuilding and repair facilities that serve the United States Navy and commercial oil tankers, dry cargo carriers, ferries, and cruise lines. The Baykeeper's first activities focused on preventing ongoing and future pollution by suing shipyards over chronic stormwater permit violations. Additional activities now include campaigns to challenge and/or force shipyards, local and state regulators, and elected officials to remediate existing contaminated sediments.

The Santa Monica Baykeeper refers to itself as a "citizen" park ranger for Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay, and adjacent coastal waters and watersheds. The Baykeeper maintains a 24-hour Pollution Hotline, recruits members and volunteers to serve as an "observer flotilla" and environmental watch prograram, provides a public awareness program that includes lectures and displays, publicizes violator "busts," tests the bay's water and sediments and provides the results to the public and government agencies, and participates in legal prosecution of violators.

The Waterkeeper Alliance has launched a national campaign in the United States to focus on protecting waterways from pollution caused by Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Activities include filing lawsuits against animal producers, alleging that they have polluted waterways, working with farmers to reduce chemical use and improve animal environments, and educating consumers.

[Judith L. Sims ]



Kennedy Jr., Robert F., and John Cronin. The Riverkeepers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.


Rosenblatt, Roger. "Heroes for the Planet: In Search of the Beauty and Mystery of Home." Time.com August 2, 1999 [cited July 2002]. <http://www.time.com/time/reports/environment/heroes/heroesgallery/0,2967,kennedy,00.html>.


The Hudson Riverkeepers. Videotape. Outside Television, 1998.

The Waterkeepers. Videotape. Outside Television. 2000.


Waterkeeper Alliance, 78 North Broadway, Bldg. E, White Plains, NY USA 10603 (914)422-4410, Fax: (914)422-4437, Email: [email protected] , <http://www.waterkeeper.org>