By: Waterkeeper Alliance
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced yesterday that he was stepping down as President of Waterkeeper Alliance, a position he has held for more than 20 years, to devote himself, full-time, to other issues. Under his leadership, the Alliance grew to be the world’s largest nonprofit focused solely on clean water. There are now more than 350 Waterkeeper groups in 48 countries, patrolling and protecting 2.8 million square miles of watersheds.
Bobby’s legacy within the Waterkeeper movement and the impact of his environmental advocacy cannot be overstated. He became chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association in 1984, helping merge that group and Riverkeeper into a single organization in 1986. The merged group, dedicated to protecting and restoring the Hudson and its tributaries from the damage done by generations of industrial degradation and civic neglect, proved a potent and successful model for a worldwide movement of place-based environmental defenders patrolling and protecting their waters by boat, by air, in classrooms, in public meetings, and in court.
Among the successes at Riverkeeper during Bobby’s time there were winning closure of one of the state’s most notoriously harmful landfills and helping to protect New York City’s upstate reservoir system, saving the city billions of dollars in unnecessary filtration costs and ensuring that tens of thousands of acres of sensitive reservoir buffer lands would be preserved.
Bobby helped found Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999 in an effort to further the successful Waterkeeper model. As president of Waterkeeper Alliance since 1999, he traveled the globe fighting for clean water, helping defeat dams in Chile and Peru, spending a month in prison in 2001 for protesting against the U.S. Naval bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, and standing with water protectors at Standing Rock.
Bobby and Waterkeeper Alliance leadership began preparing for his transition in the spring; he officially stepped down on November 9, 2020. In recognition of his service to the Waterkeeper movement, he has been named President Emeritus of Waterkeeper Alliance by the Board of Directors.
Statement from Robert. F. Kennedy, Jr.:
Waterkeeper is my life’s work and will always be my proudest achievement. More importantly, my fellow board members and Waterkeepers are my comrades, my fellow warriors, and my bosom buddies. I’m immensely proud of what we created and I relish my memories of all the trials we endured together. In pursuit of those victories; the relentless anxieties, the laughter, the adventures, the characters, and the tattoos, I think of the legion of malevolent scoundrels we’ve sued. My dreams overflow with the thousands of miles of magnificent waterways that I’ve been privileged to paddle or travel with many of you over 40 years; the mangroves, the muskies, the Spanish moss, the schooling salmon, the shrimp, crayfish, blue crab, and yellow perch, the calving glaciers and all that flowing water from the Himalayas to the Tetons, from the Andes to the Arctic, from Bimini to Homer, from Bhutan to the Jordan, and from Lake Ontario to the Futaleufú. There is so much wisdom and courage in this cohort and so many genuine heroes. In a life filled with incomprehensible wonders, it had been my greatest gift to serve this cause.
Statement from Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance:
This movement wouldn’t have existed without Bobby’s moxie, his vision, and his courage. It’s been my pleasure and my privilege to work alongside him for 20 years. I don’t have the words to express my gratitude to him for his selfless devotion to the fight for clean water. Thanks to Bobby’s tireless work, there are clean water defenders around the globe, from the Mekong to Manhattan. His environmental legacy is generations of global environmental champions. As we’ve spoken with many of them in preparation for Bobby’s departure, it’s clear how much they love him, appreciate him, and will miss him.