By Georgia Lambrakis, Waterkeeper Alliance intern
As Waterkeeper Alliance celebrates 20 years of fighting for drinkable, fishable, swimmable water, we’re honoring the work Waterkeepers do worldwide to restore the beauty and safety of the waterways they patrol and protect.
These efforts often knit together whole communities. For instance, Grand Traverse Baykeeper, led by Heather Smith, brought together businesses, medical campuses, partner organizations, elected officials, and residents to install green infrastructure projects, execute education campaigns, and restore stream banks and floodplains as part of a $5 million project to restore Kids Creek watershed, an urban tributary of Grand Traverse Bay that winds through downtown Traverse City.
Here are 12 more stories of restoration that excite and inspire:
- Cahaba Riverkeeper in 2016 discovered a major industrial source of contamination that had sterilized a portion of Buck Creek, a major tributary in its watershed. The organizations used citizen engagement to inspire action, resulting in a $1.25 million dollar effort by the polluter, Carmeuse Lime and Stone, to remediate the tributary.
- Savannah Riverkeeper has helped bring more than $45 million in restoration funds to the Savannah River through settlement agreements, including one with the Georgia Ports Authority, helping begin the largest river restoration project, in river miles, in U.S. history.
- After 25 years of advocacy and litigation, Russian Riverkeeper ended a century of destructive river gravel mining in 2011. Today, the organization is working in partnership with gravel mining companies to convert retired mining pits into productive floodplain wetlands. The restoration will reduce the communities’ vulnerability to floods and droughts, reverse population declines of endangered salmon, and engage the community around the health of the river.
- Due to mining waste, overdevelopment, and other pollution problems, when Hurricane Creekkeeper began its work in 2003 protecting the Southernmost free-flowing steam in the Appalachian mountain chain in Alabama, there were virtually no fish in the creek. Thanks to the group’s work, water quality has improved dramatically, many species have returned, and the creek is full of fish.
- Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Mark Mattson writes, “The restoration of the Gord Edgar Downie swimming pier and Breakwater Park is one of the highlights of my career. It is a testament to the power of community engagement, visionary funders, and municipal leadership. I believe that what is happening in Kingston, Canada will inspire more cities on the Great Lakes to embrace their connection to water and we will all have healthier, happier communities as a result.”
- Mid-Upper Yamuna Riverkeeper in India has been working with local communities, particularly women, to successfully restore a first-order tributary of the holy Ganges River. The stream, which ceased flowing 75 years ago, has revitalized natural springs for the community, as well as local plants and animals.
- Bagmati River Waterkeeper and Nepal River Conservation Trust have inspired thousands of citizens every weekend to participate in cleaning up one of the holiest and most polluted rivers in Nepal, which flows from the center of Kathmandu Valley. To date, they have completed more than 300 weeks of cleanups, with more than 1,850 organizations involved, and more than 11,000 volunteers, collecting more than 18,000 metric tons of waste.
- Älvräddarnas Waterkeeper secured the removal of an ancient sawmill dam on the Emån River, one of Sweden’s 16 Baltic salmon rivers. The removal, which followed seven years of advocacy, restored approximately one-third of the river’s habitat. Other projects aim to bring awareness to the unique river Emån, which is known for its sea trout stock. There are still more than 15 hydropower stations and dams without environmental mitigations, such as fishways, on the river, so the work will continue.
- Raritan Riverkeeper in New Jersey played a key role in removing four dams in its watershed, as well as creating a public access launch for kayaks in a municipality that had no public access to the river for more than 100 years.
- Waterkeepers Iraq closed down the Qliyasan car washing spot on the Tigris River. This site, frequently used by citizens to wash their cars in the middle of the Tigris River, was causing negative impacts on water quality, fish, and birds.
- Kenya Lake Victoria Waterkeeper advocated against U.S.-based Dominion Farms from using the Yala papyrus wetlands for commercial agriculture—and won. Additionally, the group supported conservation of Lake Kenyaboli, part of Yala Wetlands Complex, as a National Reserve for the conservation of endemic fish species.
- Xingyun Lake Waterkeeper, with Friends of Nature in China, brought a successful legal complaint against a real estate construction firm that was adversely impacting wetlands adjacent to Fuxian Lake. The case resulted in significant restoration projects for the wetlands and Fuxian Lake.
Feature image of Bagmati River Waterkeeper cleanup by Jason Houston