Riverkeeper: on patrol for polluters
For kids: This group does its part to protect New York’s Hudson River.
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They made an important discovery when they learned of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1888 and the Refuse Act of 1899. These laws said that it was illegal to pollute America’s waterways. The laws also said that anyone who reported a polluter could collect a bounty, or reward.Skip to next paragraph
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Most of the laws that we now have to protect our environment didn’t exist in the 1960s. Although these 19th-century ones did, they seemed to have been forgotten.
The group gathered proof that companies and towns were polluting the water, and they reported this to the government. After working for two years, they helped shut down the pipe where oil poured into the river. They collected a $2,000 bounty and were the first people to receive money under the Rivers and Harbors Act.
The group used the bounty to help identify more polluters. By 1983, they had earned enough reward money to buy a boat and hire someone as a full-time “riverkeeper.”
The job of riverkeeper is a very old one. Some of the first riverkeepers worked in England during the 1600s. They were hired by landowners to keep rivers and streams safe for fishing.
Twenty-five people work for Riverkeeper, including the boat captain, scientists, and lawyers. The boat captain, of course, patrols the Hudson. The scientists use their knowledge to prove how some people’s activities harm the water. And the lawyers use the information given to them by the boat captain and scientists to ask the polluters to stop. If they don’t stop, the lawyers take them to court.
There is also a president of the organization, Alex Matthiessen. Mr. Matthiessen believes that everyone can help take responsibility for keeping our streams and rivers clean, even kids.
The people at Riverkeeper work very hard, but they can’t do everything. They depend on other people who care about the Hudson to help them.
One of Mr. Matthiessen’s favorite experiences was when Riverkeeper received money from a third-grader and her friends to help keep the boat running. At her birthday party, the girl told her friends that she didn’t want presents. Instead, she asked everyone to give money to help take care of the Hudson River.
“Kids understand,” Mr. Matthiessen said. “The rivers and oceans belong to them, to all of us. Children have a right to clean water and air.”
To stop polluters, Riverkeeper continues to rely on those old laws that protect the water. Now, though, our country has many more and better environmental laws. Mr. Matthiessen thinks of the laws as rules that everyone must follow.
“Kids have rules,” Mr. Matthiessen said. “Adults and corporations do, too.”
Mr. Matthiessen said that stopping a large corporation from polluting the Hudson sometimes seems like a huge job for a small group like Riverkeeper. But that doesn’t discourage him.
“As long as you have clear evidence, you win every time,” he said. “Truth is powerful.”