Clean Water Defense

Watershed Protection

Waterkeepers are the public’s investigator, scientist, lawyer, lobbyist, and public relations agent for their waterway.

Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates serve as tireless advocates for the health of their watersheds and communities. On behalf of a grassroots constituency, we employ a variety of tools and strategies to identify problems, respond to citizen complaints, devise appropriate solutions and enforce environmental laws. Waterkeepers are the public’s investigator, scientist, lawyer, lobbyist, and public relations agent for their waterway, patrolling and protecting more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa.

These are just a few highlights from the Waterkeeper movement’s work on watershed protection:

  • As a direct result of Puget Soundkeeper’s 1992 lawsuit against the City of Bremerton for Clean Water Act violations, the City overhauled its combined sewer overflow (CSO) control program. By 2011, the City had invested $50 million in infrastructure to stop raw sewage discharges to sensitive Puget Sound waterways and achieved a 96% reduction in volume and a 99% reduction in the frequency of CSO events. As a direct result, commercial and tribal shellfish harvests reopened in Dyes Inlet after 50 years of closure.
  • Riverkeeper held its 6th annual Riverkeeper Sweep in 2017, a summer-long cleanup series across the Hudson River estuary. The 2017 Sweep collected less debris per volunteer project than the previous 5 years, indicating that Riverkeeper’s Sweep and other cleanup programs are leading to a change in community behavior and reducing the amount of trash found year-to-year. The Sweep brought more than 1,700 volunteers to 102 locations, removing 51,301 pounds of trash, recyclables, tires, scrap metal, styrofoam and other debris from the estuary. The summer series also planted and maintained 568 trees and bushes along the river.
  • In 2008, Humboldt Baykeeper, et al. settled a lawsuit against the Simpson Timber Company requiring the cleanup of a dioxin-contaminated tidal wetland channel adjacent to Humboldt Bay and Eureka’s Del Norte Street Pier, the only public fishing pier on the Bay. Under the settlement, the contaminated sediment was excavated, the wetland channel restored with native wetland plants, and monitoring wells installed to track residual contamination. Monitoring results from April and December 2015 show that the cleanup and restoration work was successful: surface runoff from the site is no longer contaminated and tides now flow in and out of the restored wetland channel.
  • In June of 2016, Kazirbazar Fisheries Agent Association of Sylhet district, Bangladesh, built a luxury building along the Surma River containing eight toilets for fish traders in the area. The human wastes from the toilets were released directly into the river, which was already under threat from overdevelopment. Surma River Waterkeeper brought the pollution to the attention of influential newspapers, started a local social movement, and met with the district’s Deputy Commissioner which directly lead to the demolition of the toilets.
  • Black Warrior Riverkeeper reached a successful settlement in their water pollution case against Alabama Utility Services, the operator of Donaldson Correctional Facility’s sewage treatment plant. The settlement includes injunctive relief (a court order requiring steps to curtail pollution) and a $100,000 Supplemental Environmental Project to benefit the Valley Creek watershed. Alabama Utility Services will invest in critical repairs and upgrades at the Donaldson plant, which should ensure that the facility complies with the law now and in the future.
  • Santa Teresa, once a small village near the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, became a popular tourist destination, and with that came more trash. The community struggled to keep plastic waste off of its pristine beaches, so Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper stepped in to help. In 2017 they partnered with Bionic, a New York-based startup company that turns coastal and marine plastic debris into yarns and fabrics for clothing, to begin collecting plastic in six coastal communities and five inland towns to be recycled into textiles.
  • Each year, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper hosts snowshoeing, hiking, biking, and kayaking tours to connect their community to local waterways. They transform the public into watchdogs for the rivers by educating attendees on wildlife and the challenges the Buffalo and Niagara rivers face. They help the community understand water issues and respect and appreciate the waterways by getting people out on the water and in nature to see what it has to offer.
  • In 2017, after four years of discussion with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Chesapeake College in Maryland began construction of 14 projects to help improve the health of Wye River and the Chesapeake Bay. Set in place to treat stormwater runoff issues and planned with help from Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the projects include a step pool, wetland restoration, 3 large buffer plantings and 9 bioretention projects. Combined, they will reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing into the river by 400 pounds and sediments by 19 tons annually.