The Riverkeepers

As I returned home from Florida on Labor Day, our flight took us over the Hudson alongside Manhattan before banking right into LaGuardia. Immediately noticeable was the mocha stain on the water, the result of thousands of tons of silt being washed into the river from tributaries flooded by Hurricane Irene. There was a clear dividing line in the middle of the bay, just past the Statue of Liberty. This of course, is having an effect on the ecology of the river, its quality and wildlife. I also learned later that various towns on the Hudson were dumping their raw sewage directly into the river because the hurricane damaged their water systems. It got me to thinking, “whose job is it to take care of the Hudson?”

The answer, a Riverkeeper. “The origins of the Riverkeeper go back to England in the Middle Ages when villages would hire a private citizen to look after the trout streams so that no one could abuse the waterways that were owned, utilized, and enjoyed by all of the people in the villages. The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association first introduced the Keeper concept in the U.S. in the mid-1980’s when they hired John Cronin, a former commercial fisherman and congressional aide, to patrol the Hudson full-time.”

After twenty years of working to defend the Hudson, Cronin has been nationally recognized as a hero for the environment, and written a book with Robert Kennedy Jr. about riverkeeping. He also wrote the acclaimed documentary, “The Last Rivermen,” with director, Robert Nixon, about the last generation of professional fishermen on the Hudson. Here’s an excerpt:

Cronin is no longer with Riverkeeper and now runs the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries which develops technology for environmental innovation and water policy development.

Today, Riverkeeper is not only focused on cleanup post-Irene, but on the issue of fracking. Their latest campaign, “Don’t Frack with New York” anticipates the environmental damage fracking will have on the Hudson and is lobbying Gov. Cuomo and NYS to “indefinitely extend the Executive Order that requires the DEC to go back and review the regulations under which gas drilling using fracking can occur.”

There are many Riverkeepers out there, men and women who regularly monitor, test, and defend their homewaters through advocacy and policy development. One of the more famous unofficial riverkeepers works on the Mississippi, Chad Pregracke. He is the recipient of more than 40 awards for his work cleaning-up the Miss’ and advocating for clean water. While not a scientist or policy maker, Pregracke set his sights on one task that would have the greatest impact, to remove trash. Pregracke even recently won a contest by Mitchum which named him the “Hardest Working Man in America” . Through his organization Living Lands Waters, Pregracke pulls millions of pounds of garbage out of the Mississippi, and I’m not talking tennis balls and empty bottles of Tide, his barge pulls out buses, cars, sunken houseboats, tires, barrels, what have you. Pregracke is also the author of From the Bottom Up, One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers.

Imagine taking on the challenge of cleaning up the Mississippi–a 2300 mile long river with thousands of tributaries and factories… To get an idea of what it takes to give a hoot and get something done, check out Pregracke’s efforts below (he says boom! alot). Now Pregracke didn’t do it alone–he has had 70k volunteers! Its clear we all have it in us to be Riverkeepers. So whose job is it to clean up the Hudson? Remarkable stuff to keep in mind during Labor Day. BOOM!

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