Water Warriors Wanted to protect Nature Coast Waterways
Contribution by Gary Rankel, The Packer Yaker
I’ve been a big fan of The Waterkeeper Alliance (www.waterkeeper.org), a worldwide organization headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., comprised of more than 300 grassroots groups involved in patrolling and protecting over 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents.
From the Waterkeepers Florida Website: Waterkeepers Florida is a regional entity …
Waterkeepers Florida works to protect and restore Florida’s water resources including water quality and quantity, the flora and fauna that depend on our water, and the aesthetic, recreational, and economic values of water resources through education, advocacy, and community engagement.
Waterkeepers combine firsthand knowledge of their waterways with an unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities and to the rule of law. Waterkeepers speak for the waters we defend – with the backing of our local communities and the collective strength of the global Waterkeeper Alliance network.
It includes 13 groups of dedicated community stakeholders in Florida (www.waterkeepersflorida.org) engaged in efforts to protect, restore and maintain drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water on the Indian River Lagoon, Suwannee River, St. Johns River, Apalachicola River, Lake Okeechobee, Biscayne Bay, and other waterways.
Why does no Waterkeeper Organization exist in Florida’s Nature Coast to assist in addressing concerns associated with our precious underground aquifer and to help restore and protect our outstanding surface waters?
What it would take to create a Waterkeeper Group for the Nature Coast?
Gary reached out to Alliance officials and was advised that approval of a Nature Coast Waterkeeper Organization would make sense, providing it could meet a number of established criteria.
Chief among them is the requirement for a full-time (40-hours or more per week) paid person serving as the group’s Waterkeeper who also would have access to a Waterkeeper patrol boat.
The group would have to establish its own 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization or be sponsored by one, and the Waterkeeper’s salary would have to be derived solely through donations or grants to the group. Like the other groups, it would operate autonomously within the Alliance.
The Waterkeeper Requirements and Process
Should such a formal Waterkeeper Organization and Waterkeeper position not be readily feasible, an optional Waterkeeper Affiliate Group could be established comprised of one or more paid employees and/or volunteers who would be expected to put in at least 20 or 30 hours per week.
Such a group would also have to establish its own 501 (c) (3) organization or be sponsored by one. Its members would have to adhere to all Waterkeeper quality standards and guidelines, including attending Alliance meetings and training at least once a year, and, importantly, have a desire to eventually become a fully licensed Waterkeeper Organization.
To apply for a Nature Coast Watekeeper organization, a required letter would include the biography and resume of the person who would serve as Waterkeeper or Affiliate, the area of proposed jurisdiction, and a financial plan, annual budget, and fundraising strategy.
If approved, the application would be submitted to the Waterkeeper Alliance Recruiting Committee for further review.
Who would be the Nature Coast Waterkeeper?
I contacted a few environmentally oriented folks around the Nature Coast seeking suggestions for good Waterkeeper and Affiliate candidates. I got a few names, made some calls, and had no takers. Most of the folks I chatted with seemed to have little interest in assuming a Waterkeeper role with salary totally dependent on donations, especially given our current economic climate.
NatureCoaster’s comments: There are many 501 c3 organizations in our area that have been formed to protect our waterways. Perhaps we could combine these valuable local groups into a regional Waterkeeper Alliance without losing the value of locally committed citizens and gain the value of Statewide influence on our legislators.
The requirements for a new Waterkeepers program may seem imposing, however, much time and effort goes into conducting meaningful waterway protection programs. I assume the Alliance wants to ensure that any new program will be properly staffed and effective.
I encourage anyone willing to take on such duties and become a water warrior for the Nature Coast to contact Florida Waterkeepers (www.waterkeepersflorida.org) for further information.
NatureCoaster’s Final comments: If there is interest in forming a Nature Coast Waterkeepers Group, please contact [email protected] and we will organize a group meeting to discuss how we would proceed as a region.