By: Sharon Khan
Waterkeeper Alliance supports an incredible group of 314 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates, throughout 35 countries, spanning 6 continents. The Waterkeeper movement’s commitment to clean water is unwavering every day, but World Water Day provides a chance to highlight the goal that brings us all together: drinkable, fishable, swimmable water everywhere.
The theme of this year’s World Water Day is wastewater and the United Nations is asking the world, “Why waste water?” As the demand for water is predicted to increase by 50% by 2030 and there are currently 663 million people that lack improved drinking water sources, the simple answer is “We can’t afford to waste water.” Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates around the world are patrolling waterways daily to ensure polluters are not wasting our clean water sources by dumping contaminants into them. Waterkeepers fight back to stop and prevent pollution violations, ultimately eradicating substantial threats to human health and the environment. They are the boots on the ground and the eyes on the waters that the world needs to secure drinkable, fishable, swimmable water for all.
Here is a glimpse of what Waterkeepers around the world are up to this year:
Wastewater in the United States
In 2006, Waterkeeper Alliance, Neuse Riverkeeper and the Neuse River Foundation (now Sound Rivers) filed a lawsuit against Murphy-Brown – a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc. and the largest hog operation in the world – to stop and prevent illegal discharges of swine manure across more than 250 swine facilities across North Carolina. They reached a settlement with Murphy-Brown, but the agreed upon improvements were never completed. Just a few weeks ago, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sound Rivers and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a motion to force Murphy-Brown to comply with the settlement agreement provisions requiring the company to address threats to groundwater or detected groundwater pollution at eleven of Murphy-Brown’s hog facilities in three of North Carolina’s river basins. It is imperative that Smithfield and Murphy-Brown address the dangers to human health and water quality caused by their use of antiquated lagoons and spray fields to dispose of enormous volumes of swine waste.
In Alabama, wastewater treatment plants are required by law to notify the public promptly in the event of a sewage spill, however no specifications are in place for how that should be carried out or what information should be provided. This has resulted in instances where 4 million gallons of raw sewage have been leaked into public waterways without widespread public knowledge, leading to public health issues. This month, a group of nine Alabama conservation groups submitted a petition to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission to change that. They are requesting meaningful regulations be written that will prevent future public health issues by requiring sewage treatment facilities to notify the public when they are exposed to a sewage spill. Of the nine groups involved, eight were Alabama Waterkeepers: Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper.
And other highlights from around the world:
Two of our long-standing supporters, the International Community Foundation and Environment Now, in partnership with California Coastkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper Alliance, have launched a fund to safeguard and build the work of 10 Waterkeeper Organizations in Baja, Mexico. From its U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana to its southernmost tip in Cabo San Lucas, and up the Gulf of California to the Colorado River Delta, Waterkeepers in Mexico and the U.S. are united in protecting shared national treasures.
Waterkeepers continue to unite to protect the Third Pole – the Himalayan glaciers and rivers that provide freshwater to nearly half the world’s population in Asia. This past week, Columbia Riverkeeper Brett VandenHeuvel joined Waterkeepers in Nepal for the 2nd National River Summit and Waterkeeper training. Led by the amazing Megh Ale, Karnali River Waterkeeper and founder and President of Nepal Rivers Conservation Trust, the Summit brought together a network of Waterkeepers, Waterkeeper Affiliates, and over 250 local stakeholders and youth as they worked to develop a legal basis for the conservation and management of Nepal’s rivers. Christine Ellis, Executive Director of Waccamaw Riverkeeper in South Carolina joined in on the action to lead a training for Himalayan Glacier Waterkeeper’s Kung Fu Nuns in the art of water quality monitoring.
Bangladesh and Britain
On May 20 and 21, Waterkeepers will unite in London for an international conference on the rivers of Bangladesh and Britain. London Waterkeeper Theo Thomas, Buriganga Waterkeeper and Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh Sharif Jamil, and Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Clean and Safe Energy campaign manager, are organizing a conference for nearly 1,000 people from the vast Bangladeshi community in Britain, to raise awareness and support to save the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The conference will increase links between river organizations in Britain with people of Bangladeshi origin, and create greater stewardship of rivers for the benefit of communities in both countries.
North Carolina’s French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson has united with Yoto River Waterkeeper in Togo, West Africa, to build safe drinking water wells for villagers there. In the summer of 2016, Hartwell fundraised to build a well that now provides essential clean water to hundreds of people living along the Yoto River. The well is not only improving health and saving lives, it is allowing women and children to spend more time in school and on other more productive activities. If we can raise the money to build another well, Yoto River Waterkeeper will again coordinate the local work, including a team to maintain the wells. Many thanks to all of the Waterkeepers uniting to support this mission!
2017 Waterkeeper Alliance Annual Conference
Last but not least, we can’t wait for Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates around the world to unite at our annual conference this June in Deer Valley, Utah. We could not be more proud of the diversity and fearlessness of our global movement as we rise to new challenges in keeping our waterways drinkable, fishable, and swimmable.