Water watch grows

New keeper program set to launch in state

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the national Waterkeeper Alliance, will join Alaskans later this week in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Cook Inlet Keeper program, and to mark the launch last year of a new keeper organization in Prince William Sound.

"Alaska's magnificent marine and coastal habitats support some of the most productive fisheries left in the United States," Kennedy said in a Cook Inlet Keeper press release. "That's why it's critical to promote policies that recognize the inherent links between sustainable fisheries, healthy families and strong communities. Cook Inlet Keeper, the new Prince William Soundkeeper and the Alaska Oceans Program are but a few of the groups working to ensure we pass on healthy fisheries to our kids and grandkids."

Borrowing an idea from 17th Century England concept of a water keeper, fishers and residents living along a polluted Hudson River in New York launched America's water keeper movement as they fought large corporations and entrenched bureaucracies to protect Hudson fisheries.

Concerns that pollution from assorted industrial uses, especially the economically important oil and gas industries, could threaten fisheries led Alaskans to unite in 1995 to form the Cook Inlet Keeper based on the Hudson River model. A settlement with the oil and gas industry operators over more than 4,000 violations of the Clean Water Act helped kick start the Cook Inlet Keeper program, which now employs a cadre of trained field volunteers to monitor conditions across the Cook Inlet Watershed.

"Since its inception, Keeper has trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor water quality, successfully held corporations accountable for illegal pollution, protected hundreds of thousands of acres of beluga whale habitat and kept a close eye on the health of Cook Inlet salmon streams," said Keeper director Bob Shavelson.

Now a second keeper program in Alaska is joining Cook Inlet Keeper.

Late year, residents in Prince William Sound, site of the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, have formed the Prince William Soundkeeper to help protect water quality, fisheries and sustainable communities in that important Alaska water body.

The two keeper programs will be freestanding but linked through the global network of water keepers called the Waterkeeper Alliance. That alliance includes more than 135 sound, bay, inlet and river keepers in watersheds throughout the U.S., Latin America, Australia and elsewhere, Shavelson said.

The Soundkeeper program has been under discussion for at least five years and now is engaged in the hiring process for a director.

"When I look back at the success of the Cook Inlet Keeper, it's exciting to think about the prospects for other keepers throughout the state," Shavelson said.

Kennedy is expected to be the special guest on an inaugural cruise from Whittier to Blackstone Bay on Friday to commemorate the new Soundkeeper program. The next day, Kennedy is scheduled to be keynote speaker at the Alaska Oceans Festival in Anchorage.

On Sunday, Kennedy is slated to join Cook Inlet Keeper in Homer at the Homer Elks Lodge beginning at 5 p.m. for the anniversary celebration.

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