June 21, 2022–Apalachicola Riverkeeper is part of Waterkeepers Florida and the international Waterkeeper Alliance. With your steadfast support, we’re collectively protecting drinkable, swimmable, fishable water across the planet! DC. I was energized by last week’s global conference in Washington D.C. I was especially encouraged by the time spent with fellow Florida waterkeepers discussing collaborative water protection policy strategies across our state. Here’s my hodgepodge of photos. By Georgia Ackerman
From Waterkeeper Alliance
2022 Global Conference Recap
After four long years apart, we reunited for the 2022 Waterkeeper Alliance Global Conference in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday June 8, the lobby of the Capital Hilton saw a stream of Waterkeepers arriving from all over the world — old friends connecting after a long absence, some meeting for the very first time, everyone excited to be back in one place. That night, local hosts Anacostia Riverkeeper (District of Columbia, U.S.), Potomac Riverkeeper (District of Columbia, U.S.), and Waterkeepers Chesapeake (Maryland, U.S.) welcomed everyone to their watershed, while Francis Gray of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe led a land acknowledgement ceremony.
Nine regional meetings were held on Thursday, which provided Waterkeeper groups an in-person platform to discuss specific threats, challenges, and opportunities in their geographic areas. These meetings also afforded Waterkeeper groups the opportunity and venue to strategize amongst themselves and elevate ideas, asks, and opportunities up to Waterkeeper Alliance. These were followed by a late morning and afternoon full of breakout sessions. Assateague Coastkeeper (Maryland, U.S.) Gabby Ross discussed the threat of CAFOs, Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper (Missouri, U.S.) Rachel Bartels highlighted the dangers of microplastics, and founder of Columbia Riverkeeper (Oregon, U.S.), Tim Mooney, currently of Alliance for Justice, laid out the best practices for compliant lobbying. There were also sessions on the Clean Water Act, science communications, working with tribes, and much more.
That evening, Tom Goldtooth — a highly respected and influential activist, speaker and leader — spoke to Waterkeepers over dinner. Introduced by his friend and mentee, former Grand Riverkeeper (Oklahoma, U.S.) and Waterkeeper At-Large Earl Hatley, Tom spoke about the historic relationship between people and water, our relationships to each other and nature, as well as the ongoing battle to protect waters from corporate greed. Tom’s spiritual stories about the importance of tradition, respecting Mother Earth, and the timeless connection between women, water, and life were an apt lead into the Women of Waterkeeper gathering.
On Friday, we left the hotel behind for a Sacred Waters Ceremony led by Rabiah Nur, Ayisah Yusuf, Guillermo Chavez Rosette, and Linda M. Velarde at nearby Hains Point, where the Potomac River, Anacostia River, and Washington Channel all converge. Among the many highlights, water and stones brought by Waterkeepers from watersheds all over the world were combined and blessed. There was also a recognition of the Waterkeepers we have lost since 2018. The ceremony concluded with a joyous group dance session in the grass.
Meanwhile, across town, Gloria Reuben, President, Marc Yaggi, CEO, Dan Estrin, Legal Counsel and Advocacy Director, and Kelly Hunter Foster, Senior Attorney met with staff from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Administrator, Office of Water, and Office of Public Engagement to talk about PFAS, CAFOs, the Clean Water Act, and more.
During Friday’s dinner, Vivek Maru spoke about how our climate predicament is a justice crisis and hosted a deeply informative Q&A with Waterkeepers from Nepal, India, the U.S., U.K., and others. As a social entrepreneur, human rights activist, and pioneer in legal empowerment, Vivek believes we can advance social and environmental justice by deepening democracy. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Harvard and law degree from Yale, Vivek used his knowledge and years of experience working with Human Rights Watch and World Bank to create Namati in 2011.
The Waterkeeper Alliance Annual Meeting was held on the fourth and final day of the conference. Highlights from the last year were shared; new projects were announced – including our new esri partnership that benefits all Waterkeeper members; the bylaws were ratified by the membership; and the Waterkeeper Council election results were announced. Later in the day, more breakout sessions were held on the impacts of pollution on fisheries, media training, PFAS and microplastics, and how best to respond to harmful algal blooms.
Several days of learning and reconnecting culminated on Saturday night where we celebrated the amazing accomplishments of our fellow Waterkeepers at the Terry Backer Awards Banquet. This award acknowledges the legacy of the late Terry Backer, the original Long Island Soundkeeper, by honoring individuals who exemplify his grit, tenacity, and effectiveness. Nominated and selected by their Waterkeeper peers, the 2022 winners were Rodrigo de la O of Maule Itata Coastkeeper (Maule, Chile) in Chile, Kathy Phillips of Assateague Coastkeeper, and John Wathen of Hurricane Creekkeeper (Alabama, U.S.).
Introduced by Tijuana Waterkeeper (Baja California Sur, Mexico) Margarita Diaz, Rodrigo was recognized for being a leader and community builder who works against the odds to defend his local waterways, including helping to stop a power plant and industrial salmon farming projects in Chile as well as standing strong against large real estate companies that would have destroyed a pristine area in Los Arcos de Calan. Kathy Phillips was introduced by Betsy Nicholas from Waterkeepers Chesapeake for her tireless commitment as a water defender and mentor. Betsy reflected on Kathy’s ability as a trusted community advocate who deftly navigated both sides of an issue. As an outspoken advocate against CAFOs, Kathy was often called upon by those same farmers in their time of need. Now retired, Kathy has passed her legacy to the next generation of Waterkeepers, but will always remain an integral part of the movement. Similarly, John Wathen, who dubbed himself a “gray beard,” encouraged younger Waterkeepers to benefit from the knowledge of those who have come before them so that together, we can carry on this important work for generations to come. Although not able to join us in person, John accepted his award by video, following a special introduction by his friend and Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper (Alabama, U.S.), Mike Mullen.
We also recognized our 2020 winners who had received their awards virtually. Although not with us in person, Marc Yaggi shared a bit of Kenya Lake Victoria Waterkeeper (Kenya) Leo Akwany’sindomitable spirit as a gifted facilitator who mentors, trains, and mobilizes a strong movement of more than 5000 advocates to conserve Lake Victoria wetlands and its waters. Known in the East Kali region as Nadiputr or “Son of Rivers,” Raman Kant of Hindon River Waterkeeper (Uttar Pradesh, India) and the former East Kali River Waterkeeper in India, was given the opportunity to accept his award in-person for his work to initiate and restore the health and flow of the East Kali River. Each honoree exemplified and shared a personal reflection of what Terry and the award meant to them. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
That’s a wrap! We hope our Waterkeepers returned home safely and look forward to seeing even more faces when we return in 2024!