The Importance of a Riverkeeper

 Riverkeeper, Emily Sutton samples downstream of industrial poultry operations

Riverkeeper, Emily Sutton samples downstream of industrial poultry operations

 Alamance county commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the MVP Southgate project

Alamance county commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the MVP Southgate project

Haw River Assembly protects the Haw River Watershed. This includes nine hundred and twenty miles of streams feeding into the Haw along the 110 miles of the river, the 14,000 acres of Jordan Lake, and the plants, animals, and people who depend on the river. Tributaries of the Haw River and Jordan Lake flow through Guilford, Rockingham, Caswell, Alamance, Orange, Chatham, Wake and Durham counties. Almost one million people are part of this watershed–sedimentation, wastewater, and runoff impair its waters.

 Volunteer John Wagner teaches 4th graders about pollution sensitive aquatic insects at our annual learning celebration.

Volunteer John Wagner teaches 4th graders about pollution sensitive aquatic insects at our annual learning celebration.

The Haw watershed is a mix of urban and rural landscapes. Both landscapes can have serious impacts on water quality. The role of a waterkeeper is to monitor those threats to water quality, and prevent pollution to the streams and surrounding landscapes. We hold polluters accountable through environmental protections in the Clean Water Act. As the Haw Riverkeeper, I am often in the field, collecting water samples and patrolling pollution concerns. I collect water samples to test for industrial pollutants from wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and industrial agriculture pollutants such as excessive nutrients and bacteria. This data is used by teams of scientists across the state to show the impacts of biosolid application, the spread of perfluorinated compounds similar to Gen X, and health concerns near industrial meat production facilities. I use EPA certified meters to test chemical parameters that indicate stream health. I monitor construction sites for offsite sediment that could destroy aquatic habitat downstream. I also partner with citizen groups as a resource for water quality concerns that may be threatening their community, such as a fracked gas pipeline, a gravel quarry, or coal ash sites. Haw River Assembly works with other Waterkeepers and environmental groups throughout the state to advocate for better environmental policies and protections.

 Our annual Cleanupathon is a massive watershed-wide trash pickup.

Our annual Cleanupathon is a massive watershed-wide trash pickup.

In addition to our advocacy work, we have many citizen science projects and annual events. The citizen science projects include our River Watch our Muddy Water Watch program. Our River Watch project provides volunteers with training and equipment to monitor a stream or section of the Haw each season. This data is sent to the state to supply them with information on the health of the Haw Watershed. The Muddy Water Watch program gives citizens the tools and information they need to report sediment pollution at construction projects. Both of these programs are critical watchdog programs that help us monitor ongoing threats to our streams.

 Landowner along the proposed MVP Southgate project would lose this beautiful tree if the project is approved

Landowner along the proposed MVP Southgate project would lose this beautiful tree if the project is approved

We also have an annual Learning Celebration, annual CleanUp. The Learning Celebration is a  unique three-week riverside educational field trip program. The program takes place in three different locations along the Haw River, and each day we host children from different schools in the watershed. Volunteers guide groups of 4th graders through activities that explore the woods and river through hands-on experiences. Each year the program reaches over 1,200 children.

 Testing pH on Jordan Lake

Testing pH on Jordan Lake

Each Spring we host a massive watershed-wide cleanup. Volunteers form teams to clean up trash along the river the creeks and streams that flow into it. We even have paddle teams that assist in places hard to reach by land! Each year we have over 25 cleanup sites and 350 volunteers that remove hundreds of bags of trash.

 4th graders join HRA at the river for our annual learning celebration

4th graders join HRA at the river for our annual learning celebration

The Haw River Assembly is a 501(c)(3) non-profit citizens’ group founded in 1982 to restore and protect the Haw River and Jordan Lake, and to build a watershed community that shares this vision. We are a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, which is an international network of Waterkeepers with a similar mission. We never take grant money or donations from any groups that could prevent us from holding polluters accountable. We are member supported, and much of our work is made possible by the help of volunteers. Become a member to support our work!

 Confluence of the Haw and Deep, the beginning of the Cape Fear

Confluence of the Haw and Deep, the beginning of the Cape Fear

Emily SuttonComment