1. How long have you been connected to CWF? How did you find yourself there?
I’ve worked for Clean Water Fund & Clean Water Action since 1983. A few years earlier I had taken time away from school, to live on an island in the Chesapeake Bay, helping educate visiting students and teachers about this national treasure and our shared responsibility to protect it. I returned to college, graduated with an environmental degree, and moved to Colorado to help build a state-of-the-art passive solar “net zero” headquarters for the newly forming Rocky Mt. Institute, a leading energy/climate research and policy group. Following a year back at college working with art students and faculty as a studio art assistant (an intense creative period when I produced many drawings, painting, prints, sculptures, !and jewelry!), I was ready to launch a career in environmental activism. We were part way through the term of a president, who, at that time, was the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history. I wanted to work for change and repair the harm being done under the Reagan administration.
Clean Water was in the process of reinventing itself – changing from being a DC-based advocacy group to become a grassroots-based movement-building organization that could make positive change from the outside by organizing people across the U.S. who care about their water and want to see it protected. I immediately felt like this was where I belonged. Clean Water is a cause embraced by a majority of people. And we view organized “people power” as the best way to define, advance and ultimately win solutions. Together we can hold politicians accountable and get the job done!
2. How do you stay inspired and motivated in your work? We're so inundated with coverage about the climate crisis that it can be overwhelming to stay engaged with it.
The clean water issue is one that unites people across political, economic and demographic divides. Polls consistently rank clean water among Americans’ top environmental concerns, and who could disagree with the importance of protecting our water and our health, now and for future generations? The people I get to meet and work with – my fellow staff, volunteers, business partners, and Clean Water members and donors – are my main sources of hope and inspiration. There are also countless heroes whose examples we can follow – giants such as the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis who dedicated his life to making “good trouble,” with a track record of successes to show for it.
There is every reason to believe the climate crisis is one we can solve together, even though doing so sometimes seems like a long, uphill slog against impossible odds. And, in some cases, the harms from a changing climate are already with us. I find it helpful to remember that “Climate Change is Water Change.” This is a reminder that the same pollution that causes climate change is having profound impacts on our water as well. Solving the climate crisis also means advancing solutions that protect clean water and create good paying jobs.
Finally, my wife and I now have one grandson and another grandchild on the way (arrival sometime in the next few days, as I complete this interview!). What could be more urgent and inspiring than doing my part – and persuading others to join me – to envision and help build a sustainable clean water future for them and their children?
3. Do you have any good tips for how individuals can take action to better protect our waters?
You have to be careful about asking an environmentalist this kind of question… we can come back at you with a long, complicated list of 50 or 100 or more urgently needed actions, there’s so much to be done. But, I’ll share a few from the very top of my list:
TIP 1 – Don’t take clean water for granted. If you care about clean water, now and for the future, just sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. Whether through simple actions in your own home or workplace, or by joining with others in your community and through an organization like ours, your voice – your active involvement – matter. We’re building a Clean Water Movement, and there’s a place in it for you.
TIP 2 – Remember: We all live downstream! (Or, if you’re feeling feisty, We can’t all live upstream!) In other words, remember that waste and pollution – like flowing water or climate change – do not respect political boundaries or stay in one place. When you understand where threats to our water – like pollution – are coming from, and what’s happening with our water downstream of where we live, you get a new perspective on things. You understand the importance of stopping pollution before it starts. Imagine how things would look today (or in the future) if all communities, businesses and governments made every decision giving careful consideration to the potential impacts on our water – what we call Putting Drinking Water First. What would it be like to realize the visionary goals of the Clean Water Act, a law we helped write and get passed first in 1972: fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all people and communities ?
TIP 3 – Do something for our water, today. If you’re like me, it’s helpful to have a few more specific DO’s and DON’T’s.
Here’s a good one you may not hear elsewhere: Do NOT flush wipes. Even “flushable” wipes are not meant to go down the drain. They cause clogs, flooding and yucky sewer back-ups, costing water consumers and taxpayers money and making water pollution problems worse.
DO what you can to reduce your reliance on single-use throwaway plastics, like straws, flimsy plastic bags, foam foodware, disposable cups, single-serve water bottles, and flatware. Why? Because most plastic products are made from fossil fuels and are making climate change worse, and because once “disposed” those plastics too often end up moving downstream and into our water.
BE a Clean Water Voter. Understand candidates’ positions and records on clean water and climate, bring your concerns with you to the ballot box as an educated voter.
READ the label on the consumer and personal care products we buy and use every day. Product ingredients and wasteful packaging can have a huge impact on our water. In fact, the products we put in and on our bodies are essentially “designed for the drain,” but often without consideration for what happens once they get into our water.
TIP 4 – Stay informed, and stay involved to protect clean water. Clean Water works on these issues full-time, year ‘round. The more you stay involved and participate in our actions whenever you’re able, the better our chances of winning. Visit our website, sign up for our emails, read our blog, listen to our podcast, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Let us know what you’re doing to help protect clean water and how we can help you do even more and better.
4. What is your favorite beach/nature preserve to visit?
There are so many wonderful choices here, starting with the concrete storm drainage “creek” in my parents’ own backyard, where I spent countless hours playing as a child. Some other special places stand out for me: Rock Creek Park (an oasis running through the middle of Washington, DC, where I grew up) and Great Falls on the Potomac; any of the New Jersey, Maryland or Delaware Shore beaches; of course, the Chesapeake Bay and all special people and places there I’ve come to love; Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, home to loons, lake trout and water that is still clean enough to drink.
When you stop to think about all of the special places in your own life, the places you make your favorite memories, chances are, water – clean water – is a part of that landscape.
5. Are there any big cases/projects that CWF is working on that you are excited about?
Two come to mind right away:
Our campaign to repeal and replace the Dirty Water Rule, so we can make sure Clean Water Act protections once again extend to all rivers, streams and wetlands, including precious resources that supply millions of people with drinking water. And, just as urgent, now is the time to make sure Congress commits to the levels of federal investment needed to get lead out of contact with our drinking water, starting with the big infrastructure bills moving this fall. Click here to get involved!
Our ReThink Disposable programs, which work with consumers and businesses to tackle the tsunami of plastic trash flowing into our water. We can replace all those wasteful single-use throw-aways with durable, re-usable alternatives – good for our water, and good for our pocketbooks. Sign our ReThink Disposable pledge here.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us and our followers/subscribers?
The business case for protecting clean water is an especially compelling one, even for businesses that may not have an obvious direct connection to water. Millions of businesses and jobs in the U.S. depend on clean water for their financial success and well-being, including that of their employees, customers and the communities they inhabit. Yet “business reasons” are among those most-often cited to justify a pro-polluter, dirty water policy agenda. That is why businesses like MJM Jewelry, who make a public commitment to sustainability and then go the extra mile to raise awareness and contribute funds to support Clean Water are so important. And why we are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with them.