What is a WATERKEEPER?
- The eyes and ears of the waterbody;
- A physical presence on the water via boat patrol;
- Full-time paid public advocate for the waterbody;
- Independent non-profit organization.
The beginning of a movement: Hudson RIVERKEEPER
During the 1960′s, fisherman on the Hudson River had seen enough of their livelihood being eliminated right in front of their eyes. Fish populations were in great decline and many areas were not suitable for swimming. The polluters were effectively stealing it from the public. New York City was dumping 1.5 billion gallons per day of raw sewage into the River; the paint from Tarrytown’s GM plant dyed the River a new color each week; the Indian Point power plant was killing millions of fish each day; the National Guard was filling tidal wetlands at Camp Smith; and Penn Central Railroad was discharging oil from a pipe at the Croton Rail Yard. The oil floated up the Croton on the tide, blackening the beaches and making the shad taste of diesel. The fisherman fought back with the law: the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1888 and the Refuse Act of 1899. These statutes forbade pollution of American waters and provided a bounty reward for whoever reported the violation!
The fishermen agreed to organize themselves to track down and prosecute the Hudson’s polluters one at a time until they were all eliminated. They were as good as their word. Two years later they shut down the Penn Central Pipe and collected $2,000, the first bounty ever awarded under the 19th-century statute. They were soon collecting even larger bounties against Standard Brands, Ciba-Geigy, American Cynamid, Westchester County, Anaconda Wire and Copper, and many others. Therein was born the WATERKEEPER movement: citizens using the law to protect their waters. The Fishermen used winnings from these cases to build and launch a Riverkeeper boat, which today patrols the Hudson searching out environmental lawbreakers and bringing them to justice. In 1983, they hired their first full-time Riverkeeper, activist and former commercial fisherman John Cronin. One year later, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joined Riverkeeper as its Chief Prosecuting Attorney. Since those early days, Riverkeeper has brought hundreds of polluters to justice and forced them to spend hundreds of millions of dollars remediating the Hudson. The Hudson, condemned as an “open sewer” in the 1960s, is today one of the richest water bodies on earth. The River’s miraculous recovery has inspired the creation of “waterkeepers” on more than 150 waterways across the globe.
Read the full Hudson RIVERKEEPER story here.
For more information on the history of the Waterkeeper Movement see Charles Scribner’s History of Waterkeeper Alliance: An International Grassroots Movement Flows from the Hudson (2005) (PDF).
Who is WATERKEEPER Alliance?
Baltimore Harbor WATERKEEPER is a member of the WATERKEEPER Alliance, an international grassroots advocacy organization founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that connects and supports local Waterkeeper programs to provide a voice for waterways and their communities worldwide.
To champion clean water and strong communities, Waterkeeper Alliance:
- Supports and empowers member Waterkeeper organizations to protect communities, ecosystems and water quality;
- Promotes the Waterkeeper model for watershed protection worldwide;
- Advocates for issues common to Waterkeeper programs;
- Licenses the use of the Waterkeeper name.
Each Waterkeeper program reflects the needs of the waterbody and community it represents. The common thread for each Waterkeeper program is a full-time person who serves as the Waterkeeper, the public advocate for that body of water. The Waterkeeper concept has evolved into a rapidly growing international movement. Currently, there are 180+ Waterkeeper programs worldwide.
What is WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake?
WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake is a coalition of sixteen (16) independent Waterkeeper programs working to protect and restore the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays and their tributaries. WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake works locally, using grassroots action and advocacy to protect their communities and their waters. They also work regionally to share resources and leverage their individual strengths to expand each Waterkeeper’s capacity for on-the-water, citizen-based enforcement of environmental laws in the Chesapeake region. They patrol thousands of miles of tributaries and shorelines throughout the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays and are at the forefront of enforcement efforts. For a complete list of WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake, click here.
How does Baltimore Harbor WATERKEEPER fit in?
Baltimore Harbor WATERKEEPER was approximately the 130th member program of WATERKEEPER Alliance, licensed in 2006, and is a member of WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake.