River Celebration Awards
Established in 2005, the River Celebration Awards are designed to celebrate the successes and dedicated efforts of river activists in Georgia.
2015 River Network River Celebration Awards
Watershed Group of the Year – Push Back the Pipeline Coalition
The Watershed Group of the Year is given to a group of river heroes that are out there on the front lines every day, working on behalf of all of us to keep our rivers flowing clean. This year we are honoring the Push Back the Pipeline Coalition for their significant achievements in protecting Georgia’s rivers from Augusta to St. Marys through their leadership, education and outreach.
The Push Back the Pipeline Coalition is made up of eleven different organizations, including Altamaha Riverkeeper, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Satilla Riverkeeper, Savannah Riverkeeper, St. Mary’s Earth Keepers, the Center for a Sustainable Coast, GreenLaw, Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Pipeline Safety Coalition and the Georgia Conservancy. They formed to fight the Palmetto Pipeline, a proposed 360 mile long petroleum pipeline that would send 167,000 barrels of gas, ethanol and diesel per day across 210 miles and eleven counties in Georgia. The pipeline, promoted by Texas-based Kinder Morgan, would endanger sensitive environmental areas including freshwater wetlands, tidal marshes and all of our coastal rivers and tributaries, including the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla and St. Mary’s River. The coalition is working with concerned citizens, landowners, organizations and other groups in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida who oppose the Palmetto Pipeline or advocate for a safer route.
A few of their accomplishments include:
• The coalition turned out hundreds of citizens to nine public meetings hosted by Kinder Morgan and the Georgia Department of Transportation to oppose the Palmetto Pipeline.
• Over 1,000 people signed a “Stop the Palmetto Pipeline” Petition.
• The coalition helped generate 3,000 public comments that were submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
• The coalition has educated property owners about their rights and how Kinder Morgan must use “eminent domain” to seize private property to build the Palmetto Pipeline.
• The grassroots opposition to the pipeline encouraged Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle to publically state their opposition to the project on May 7th.
• Georgia’s Department of Transportation rejected Kinder Morgan’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the pipeline on May 19th. Without this certificate, Kinder Morgan cannot condemn private property to build the pipeline. Kinder Morgan has appealed this decision in an effort to move the project forward. So, the Push Back the Pipeline Coalition has more work to do in Georgia.
For their dedication to all of Georgia’s Atlantic Coast Rivers—the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla and St. Marys Rivers—and for advocating for the rivers’ health, the health of nearby communities and people that rely on these waterways, we want to honor Push Back the Pipeline Coalition with the Watershed Group of the Year award.
Jen Hilburn (Altamaha Riverkeeper)
Tonya Bonitatibus (Satilla Riverkeeper)
Emily Markensteyn ( Ogeechee Riverkeeper)
Mary Freund (Satilla Riverkeeper)- receiving for Ashby Nix
River Conservationist of the Year: Justin Ellis, Soque River Watershed Association (Habersham County, Georgia)
The River Conservationist of the Year Award goes to someone whose work has had a direct impact on the health of their river. This may be through education, science, outreach or policy, and will be given to someone who has demonstrated heroic leadership, inspiration, creativity and dedication to a vision of clean, healthy, plentiful water for our communities, our families and wildlife. This year, we are honoring Justin Ellis with the River Conservationist of the Year Award for his hard work and tireless dedication to protecting and restoring our rivers.
For the better part of a decade, the Soque River Watershed Association (SRWA) has had Justin at its helm. He has been a vital force for good and an exemplary leader in the Soque River watershed, the entirety of which is contained within Habersham County in northeast Georgia. The Soque watershed is small, but is also a world-class trout fishery, due in part to the fact that 90% of its land cover is in forest and farm. Justin realized early on that in order to protect the watershed that in order to keep the Soque clean, he needed to focus on promoting more sustainable farming practices in Habersham County.
It seems like a no-brainer: look at your watershed, figure out what’s affecting the health of the river, and address that. But it’s often not that simple. One thing that makes Justin a great leader is that he realized that the Soque watershed and the people who lived there are a unit—and the unique combination of people and place needed to be taken into consideration when planning the work of a river protection organization. For instance, Justin realized that much of what was affecting in the water quality of the Soque was not pollution from industry, but from farming. But farming was also integral to the health of the community, and preferable to urban growth, from a watershed perspective.
Justin focused on helping farmers fix problem areas on over 40 farms in the watershed. SRWA planted trees, helped schools landscape their grounds to minimize soil erosion and runoff. He also got to know people personally—elected officials, farmers, developers, land owners along the Soque—and worked to help everyone understand that it’s in the community’s best interest to make the Soque watershed a more sustainable place, for the river and for people.
Justin left SRWA this year to teach at the University of North Georgia. SRWA is in good hands with long-time SRWA supporter Duncan Hughes, but Justin’s great leadership, creativity, vision, political savvy has been an inspiration to river lovers all over the state. Good luck, Justin! You will be missed!
Volunteer of the Year: Margaret Tyson, Ochlockonee River Water Trail (Colquitt, Thomas, and Grady counties / Ochlockonee River Watershed)
Each year, Georgia River Network gives our Volunteer of the Year award to someone we know makes a big difference to Georgia's rivers without even getting paid--or even much recognition--for doing it. This year, we are honoring Margaret Tyson for her hard work, generous spirit and dedication to Georgia's rivers and to Georgia River Network.
Margaret Tyson resides in the red hills of Southwest Georgia and although she has a full time job, her dedication and passion for rivers has led her to volunteering her time to protect and bring attention to the Ochlockonee River Watershed. She worked closely with Georgia River Network and American Rivers in several legal challenges against the Grady County Fishing Lake. With her help, we fought to protect Tired Creek and adjacent wetlands from a new unneeded dam and massive artificial lake. Unfortunately, our mutiple legal battles did not stop the project from moving forward.
But this didn't slow her down...Instead she took the lead in creating the Ochlockonee River Water Trail and has done an amazing job galvanizing the community to support and get involved in its development in order to make the river an asset to Colquitt, Thomas and Grady counties and the economy of southwest Georgia. Due to her dedicated efforts GRN selected the Ochlockonee River Water Trail as one of 2 groups in 2014 to receive technical water trail assistance and to partner with for the upcoming Ochlockonee Hidden Gem Paddle on Nov. 14. Which everyone should attend! It's going to be a blast with overnight camping option and special post paddle dinner at Birdsong Nature Center.
For her dedication to Georgia's rivers, we award her the Georgia River Network Volunteer of the Year award.
Watershed Group of the Year – Yellow River Water Trail (Porterdale, GA / Upper Ocmulgee River Basin)
The Yellow River Water Trail group (YRWT) is a watershed group based in Porterdale, GA that focuses its work on the Yellow River, which meanders through many backyards through Gwinnett, DeKalb, Rockdale, Newton, and Jasper counties. The YRWT group is made up of all volunteers, but even without staff, they have accomplished a tremendous amount. A few of their accomplishments include:
• Partnered with Newton Trails, Keep Covington Newton Beautiful, Newton Family Collaborative, Upper Ocmulgee River & Conservation Development and other non-profit groups to engage the communities in outdoor recreation to combat childhood and adult obesity.
• Held over 20 River cleanups, one of which received national attention.
• Created a website, established memberships and assisted with the development of the new Porterdale Canoe/Kayak Launch.
• Had 'Resolutions of Support' for the YRWT signed by Porterdale, Covington, and Newton County Water & Sewer Authority and property owners, Charles & Hilda Berry. Resolutions are pending in Rockdale County with plans to continue relationships in Dekalb and Gwinnett Counties.
• Completed resurfacing of Mt. Tabor Bridge Access point in the Almon Community using recycled asphalt from recent road projects at no cost to taxpayers.
• Established a Yellow River Adopt-A-Stream testing team with monthly chemical testing in Newton County.
• Currently in the design phase of the Yellow River Water Trail Master Map.
YRWT leaders Tonya Bechtler and the rest of the board have been instrumental in educating the community about using the river for recreation and enjoyment and ways in which people can get involved in restoration efforts so that it can be considered a healthy place for the communities that rely on it.
For their dedication to the Yellow River and for advocating for its health as well as for putting the Yellow River on the map as a recreational destination, YRWT was recognized as “Watershed Group of the Year.”
River Conservationist of the Year: Emily Markesteyn, Ogeechee Riverkeeper (Savannah, GA)
(Photo by Erik Voss) Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Emily Markesteyn has led the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization (ORK) though one of the toughest challenges any Georgia river group has had to face thus far. In May of 2011, Emily had only been working as ORK’s Executive Director for one month when one of the largest fish kills in Georgia's history occurred on the Ogeechee River. With funding for its Emergency Response Team gutted, it took Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) days to warn the public. During the investigation, King America Finishing, a textile plant on the Ogeechee River in Screven County, was found to have been discharging into the river without the proper permits. While the state of Georgia imposed lax enforcement on King Finishing, Ogeechee Riverkeeper felt more was needed and filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit against the facility for their permit violations.
The fish kill and associated work has kept ORK busy for years—partly because the communities surrounding the Ogeechee looked to their Riverkeeper to respond where their government did not. Right after the fish kill, ORK began responding to citizen calls, monitoring the waterways, and making sure pollution issues, don’t happen again on the Ogeechee—or in the state of Georgia.
In 2012, Emily became interim Riverkeeper and Executive Director, and has been the sole staff person through the organization’s lawsuit with King Finishing and the settlement this year, which negotiated upgrades to the King Finishing plant, far better discharge permits than were held before the fish kill, and a substantial beefing up of King Finishing monitoring and testing activities. In December of 2013, the ORK board voted Emily in as permanent Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Executive Director of the organization.
In 2013, Emily worked with her local State Representative,Jon Burns,who introduced HB 549, Emergency Response to Pollution Spills, which passed during this year’s legislative session. This bill will require EPD to maintain an emergency response program and help EPD keep the program staffed and funded. The bill requires appropriate and timely responses to emergencies that threaten the state’s waters and proper public notification, coordination and training between the state and local communities to protect the health of our families during emergencies.
For her leadership and tireless dedication to protecting and restoring the Ogeechee River, Emily was recognized as “River Conservationist of the Year.”
Volunteer of the Year: Clay Montague, Satilla Riverkeeper (Waverly, GA / Satilla River Basin)
Clay Montague is an Associate Professor Emeritus specializing in coastal systems ecology in the Center for Wetlands of the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences at the University of Florida (UF). He retired from UF in 2010 and now lives in coastal Georgia, on the banks of the Satilla River estuary. He has been a volunteer scientific advisor for the Satilla Riverkeeper organization and member of that organization since 2005, and is still acting in that volunteer role today. He has worked professionally over the past 30+ years on environmental aspects of a variety of coastal issues and engineering projects with colleagues at the University of Florida.
In February 2012 he was asked to volunteer as Interim Satilla Riverkeeper which became a yearlong commitment. During that time, Clay maintained the face of the Satilla Riverkeeper in order to keep donations arriving, learned and executed its business, organized its annual Gala, sought resolutions to unfinished business, wrote new grant proposals, and carried out new grants. Clay also nominatedNoyes Cut in the Satilla River estuary for the Georgia Water Coalition's 2012 Dirty Dozen Report, which resulted in a joint resolution of the Georgia Legislature to call for the United States Army Corps of Engineersto close Noyes Cut. Clay continues his involvement in Noyes Cut and other major issues of importance to the Satilla Riverkeeper, attends board meetings and staff training, travels to field sites, and freely provides advice when requested.
For his hard work, generous spirit and dedication to Georgia's rivers, Clay Montague was recognized as “Volunteer of the Year.”
Watershed Group of the Year – South River Watershed Alliance (Decatur, GA/Upper Ocmulgee River Basin)
South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA), is a watershed group based in the Atlanta metro area dedicated to improving the health of the South river, which meanders through east Atlanta. An urban river, the South river is faced with a variety of environmental threats which have caused the city and surrounding communities to avoid the river for generations. Although SRWA is an all-volunteer group, they have made a tremendous amount of progress in restoring the South river since its inception in 2000:
2000–2005, SRWA became a member of Clean Streams Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional coalition of community and watershed groups, formed to provide community input into implementation of Atlanta’s combined sewer overflow federal consent decree. The Task Force combined education and advocacy to win changes to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Atlanta’s combined sewer overflow system, resulting in water quality improvements for South river.
2011 (May), SRWA successfully intervened in the DeKalb County federal consent decree, a legally binding agreement in which DeKalb County takes responsibility for polluting the county’s creeks and river. Intervention provides communities in south DeKalb County with full access to the consent decree implementation ess.
2011 (July), SRWA launched South River 2020, an 8 ½ year project to build long-term community support for South river.
2012, SRWA galvanized community support through numerous river cleanups, paddling trips, and educational events and workshops.
President, Jackie Echols and SRWA board members have been instrumental in educating the community on the safe use of the river for recreation and enjoyment and ways in which people can get involved in restoration efforts so that it can be considered a healthy place for the communities that rely on it.
For their dedication to the South river and for advocating for its health and the health of the communities and people that rely on the river, we award the South River Watershed Association the Watershed Group of the Year award.
Volunteer of the Year - Richard Milligan (Athens, GA)
Richard is a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Georgia and founding member of the Georgia River Survey, an independent organization that has undertaken ecological surveys by canoe of several rivers in the state. He writes articles about environmental and social issues for the local news media and actively volunteers for conservation and immigrants’ rights groups. He has been a dedicated volunteer at Georgia River Network for our week long paddling event –Paddle Georgia - and nearly every other paddling event held by Georgia River Network for the past year. We are honoring Richard Milligan for his hard work, generous spirit and dedication to Georgia's rivers and to Georgia River Network.
River Conservationist Award - Keith Parsons, Atlanta, GA
In 1998, Keith Parsons co-founded Georgia River Network with the goal of creating a state-wide organization that engaged more people in river protection, grew and supported a network of river groups across Georgia, and advocated for strong protections for our rivers. He helped pull the resources together to hire the first Executive Director, open the first office, and form the board of directors.
Over the years, Keith has been a great supporter of GRN’s efforts by providing invaluable technical information and expertise, generous financial support, and most recently serving as a lead volunteer and “sweep boater” on our annual Paddle Georgia adventure, alongside his wife Shirl.
Keith retired from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in late 2012, after 23 years of serving as Water Quality and Regulatory Specialist and 401 Water Quality Certification Coordinator. Following retirement, Keith is busier than ever as a member of the board of the South River Watershed Association, a volunteer citizen-lobbyist for the Georgia Water Coalition, and a volunteer for Georgia River Network.
Georgia’s waterways are healthier, and will continue to be, because of Keith’s service.
River Conservationist Award - Jerry McCollum, Madison, GA
For 25 years, Jerry was president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) – the oldest and largest conservation organization in Georgia. In those 25 years, Jerry grew GWF into an influential, powerful, impactful organization with many programs to engage Georgians in the enjoyment, appreciation, and protection of Georgia’s fish, wildlife and wild places. He led initiatives that protected tens of thousands of acres of land in Georgia and saved the Okefenokee Swamp from a proposed titanium mine that would have ruined the national treasure. He led the creation of many programs that engaged children and adults in appreciation of the outdoors and engaged hunters and anglers in the legislative process to protect the values and places they hold sacred. He also helped lead the formation of the Georgia Water Coalition, a coalition that has grown to 193 diverse partners that has successfully advocated for healthy waterways for the last 10 years.
Before taking over at GWF, Jerry worked 15 years for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as Field Biologist for the Resources Planning Program, Senior Wildlife Biologist for Ossabaw Island, and Assistant to the Director of the Game and Fish Division where he led the Natural Heritage Inventory and worked with sportsmen. These are just a few of his many accomplishments.
Jerry retired from GWF at the end of the 2012 and is spending his retirement doing the things he loves, including visiting with friends, hunting, fishing and enjoying the places he worked so hard to protect.
Watershed Group of the Year – Ogeechee Riverkeeper (Statesboro, GA / Ogeechee River Basin)
In May of 2011, the Ogeechee River was the site of largest fish kill in state history – where an estimated 33,000 fish died in a single weekend and 38,000 fish are estimated to have perished overall. The Ogeechee Riverkeeper had been on the case long before the fish kill occurred, taking action on citizen complaints for many years about suspicions that something was going terribly wrong on the Ogeechee near the industrial discharge of King America Finishing Co. textile plant in Dover, GA. Ultimately the fish kill began directly downstream of the factory’s discharge pipe. Even when the state was slow to react to the fish kill and issue public health advisories, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper was there from Day 1, taking water and fish samples and sending them off to private labs for independent testing. They provided daily updates for the public and the press, and communicated with the EPD. Ultimately, it was determined that the factory had been discharging toxic substances into the Ogeechee River without the state’s knowledge or approval for over 5 years. When the state settled with factory with what many considered a relative “slap on the wrist,” the Ogeechee Riverkeeper took action on behalf of the people of the Ogeechee watershed impacted and outraged over the fish kill, years of pollution, and the injustice of the settlement. They organized public meetings, involved state elected officials, and ultimately took legal action. For their dedication to the Ogeechee River and for advocating for its health and the health of the communities and people that rely on the river, we award them the Watershed Group of the Year.
River Conservationist of the Year – Allison Hughes and Tara Muenz
We would like to recognize Allison Hughes and Tara Muenz for their work in organizing the Adopt-A-Stream monitoring on Paddle Georgia each year. Paddle Georgia is a weeklong paddle down a different river each year for 350 participants.
Georgia River Network is really lucky to have AAS come and train teachers and participants in adopt a stream monitoring. Tara and Allison
spend many hours preparing for the event and have really long days during the the event to get everyone on the water, monitoring, off the river,
and running samples. They are always the last to go to bed, and then they get up and do it all again the next day, all week. Adopt-A-Stream has been part of Paddle Georgia since 2006 when Harold Harbert and Allison started the monitoring program with us. Since then Adopt-A-Stream has taken nearly 500 samples and trained 126 volunteers. We appreciate all the work they put into the event as well as everything they do across the state. Allison Hughes, has served as a State Coordinator for Georgia Adopt-A-Stream since November 2005, with a year break in Samoa. She enjoys sharing her love of the environment with citizens across the state through Adopt-A-Stream training workshops. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in her family farm in Tucker, white water kayaking, working with Animal Action Rescue, Inc. and spending time with her husband Craig and their family. Allison loves her job and working in partnership with Tara Muenz. She has attended four Paddle Georgia Trips:Etowah, Ocmulgee, Broad-Savannah, Oconee.
Tara Muenz is an aquatic biologist and environmental educator, and is currently a State Coordinator for a volunteer water quality monitoring program within the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources called Georgia Adopt-A-Stream. She has lived all over Georgia working in Coastal Environments and the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem, studying sea turtles and Georgia's beautiful aquatic ecosystems. Her interests lie in community outreach and fostering stewardship of the earth, with a hope to make this world a healthier place for future generations. She also has a special passion for critters and in working with citizens to share habitat that benefits all species on earth. She has been on Paddle GA since 2009.
Volunteer of the Year – Poni Shannon (Greensboro, GA)
Poni retired in Greensboro GA about nine years ago with her husband Pat and 16 year old Lhasa, Buster. After many years of working as an accountant, she now gets to spend her time volunteering, keeping up with 8 grandchildren, kayaking, and gardening. She also spends three months a year RVing in state and national parks. Poni has come on Paddle Georgia for several years in a row. Last year, Poni decided to forego the paddling to give us a hand in camp, and we quickly realized we had a volunteer extraordinaire in our midst. She's helpful, patient, observant, hard working, and a great problem solver. Not only has she assisted us on the road, she has come into our office--driven an hour from her home in Greensboro--just to help us with mailings and event preparation. For her dedication to Georgia’s rivers, we award her the Georgia River Network Volunteer of the Year award.
Watershed Group of the Year – Soque River Watershed Association (Clarkesville, GA / Chattahoochee River Basin)
The Soque River Watershed Association, located in Clarkesville, Georgia, works to protect and restore the Soque River, which is contained entirely within Habersham County in Northeast Georgia. Since the mid-1990s, Habersham County has seen tremendous population growth, and while challenges facing the watershed still include agriculture, water supply and some industrial concerns, they now also include more urban types of issues such as non-point source pollution from housing developments and increasing impervious surfaces resulting from retai
l development. Primary activities of the Association include organization of a community watershed partnership, management of a federal 319 grant project to implement a watershed protection plan, coordination of a community greenway project and garden, and collaboration with local officials on conservation policy and planning improvements.
In 2010, along with grants from the U.S. EPA and other agencies and foundations, over 50 percent of the Soque River Watershed Association’s operating budget came from local sources of support. That shows incredible local support, and it's the secret to their success. In 2010 alone the Association:
- Constructed a 1/5 acre organic community garden on the Clarkesville Greenway.
- Installed 15+ cattle exclusion projects protecting 25,000 feet of streams.
- Constructed a 400-square-foot model rain garden in partnership with North Georgia Technical College.
- Hosted sustainability tours of grist mills, sustainable farms, a bike tour of the Greenway, and a Tour of Sustainable Streambanks for nearly 200 total attendees.
- Assisted Tallulah Falls in installing rain barrels on over half of all the town’s homes.
- Installed a 1,000-gallon cistern at Fairview Elementary for use in outdoor irrigation.
- Launched an online farmers market that so far has generated $27,000 in income for local farms.
- Designed a streambank restoration project for construction this spring.
- Partnered with the Board of Education to re-vegetate a school site for erosion control and stormwater infiltration.
- Drafted a grant that would build stormwater infiltration systems and a rainwater capture & reuse system for a soon-to-be-constructed county courthouse.
The Association also works in partnership with local government, agencies, scientists and organizations to coordinate the Soque River Watershed Partnership. The Partnership is a collaborative effort that works to better understand the sources and nature of pollution in the watershed, and has completed a comprehensive assessment of the Soque River system to identify pollution hotspots. The Partnership then implements water protection projects to decrease pollution sources, focusing on sediment, bacteria and stormwater. In photo: Justin Ellis, Teri Parker, Bill Gresham, Randy Moser, Duncan Hughes, John Bigelow, Doug Henry, Scarlett Fuller, Charle Statler, Walter Matlock
River Conservationist of the Year – Ben Emanuel (Athens, GA / Oconee Basin)
Ben Emanuel is the Oconee River Project Director for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, and works part-time for Georgia River Network as an Administrative Assistant. Ben also serves on the local Greenway Commission in Athens and previously covered many environmental issues in his job at Flagpole Magazine. Ben blogs for Georgia River Network on water issues in the news and is a go-to man on water issues. Ben’s leadership skills were put into action when Athens’ Trail Creek was severely damaged in late July of 2010. Toxic runoff from a fire at J&J Chemical Company in Athens flowed into the creek's headwaters along with firefighting water from a massive fire. Electric blue color in the stream persisted for days on end, while toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and para-dichlorobenzene caused an extensive fish kill and then persisted for weeks. Ben coordinated community groups, neighbors, concerned citizens and local elected officials into a cohesive and quick grassroots response to the spill. He served as a liaison between the local community and government officials about spill response and remediation efforts, and also helped bring key UGA researchers into the loop on response, facilitating conversations between GA EPD staff and UGA researchers that helped remediation actions happen sooner. He advocated strenuously with the Environmental Protection Division for measures to reduce the toxic chemical load flowing in Trail Creek through neighborhoods and parks in the weeks after the spill, and with local and state officials for a full examination of the failures of response. Because state and local authorities' response to this catastrophic chemical spill was lacking, Ben’s work on improving information flow to the public, encouraging remediation on the ground, and demanding accountability from public authorities has led into a role of leading discussion statewide around the problems with the Emergency Response section of Georgia EPD. Ben plans to participate in the formation of a new Local Emergency Planning Committee in Athens-Clarke that will, hopefully, help prevent similar circumstances from occurring in the future. The Trail Creek story was named the top local news story for the Athens Banner-Herald in 2010. In addition to follow-up work on this incident, Ben is leading an effort to improve water efficiency in restaurants and bars in Athens.
Volunteer of the Year – Patty Berkovitz (Sandy Springs, GA / Chattahoochee Basin)
Patty exemplifies a commitment to hands-on, grassroots activism on behalf of environmental and water issues. She has worked with a cross-section of the community – young, old, professionals and politicians – always on well-reasoned goals. She was a cofounder of the Long Island Creek Watershed Preservation Association and president of the group for many years, giving not only time but personal funds to support the organization. When the City of Sandy Springs was incorporated, the organization's focus was broadened to include all the watersheds in Sandy Springs, not just Long Island Creek. The Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs is now active across the City, working with schools and other conservation groups to preserve and restore Sandy Springs’ urban environment. Patty was the initial President of the Alliance and is now its Secretary. She is a delegate to the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods and handles its environmental affairs portfolio. Patty regularly attends city zoning and planning meetings, and is at city council meetings often enough almost to be considered an unofficial member of the council.
Volunteer of the Year – Chris Manganiello (Athens, GA)
Starting in the fall of 2009, Chris Manganiello has provided invaluable volunteer help to Georgia River Network and Georgia’s river protection movement. Chris brings extraordinary knowledge of, and passion for, river issues, policy directions, and the importance of history to GRN’s work of advocating for strong protections for Georgia’s rivers. Chris’ credentials are quite impressive: he recently completed his Ph.D. with Honors at the University of Georgia. His Ph.D. focused on U.S., Environmental, and World History, and his dissertation was entitled: “Dam Crazy with Wild Consequences: Artificial Lakes and Natural Rivers in the American South, 1845-1990.”
Chris has contributed to Georgia River Network’s advocacy efforts by providing an important academic and historical perspective to the way that we approach and analyze water policy issues. He has lent this expertise as we’ve addressed and responded to critical statewide issues over the last year and half:
• Judge Paul Magnuson’s ruling in July of 2009 that Metro Atlanta had three years to negotiate a water-sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida before losing nearly all of its access to Lake Lanier.
• The water-supply proposals of Governor Sonny Perdue’s Water Contingency Task Force.
• The 2010 Georgia Water Stewardship Act.
• Proposals for new reservoirs.
• Efforts to enact strong protections on interbasin transfers of water in Georgia.
A key piece of this work was co-founding our Georgia Water Wire blog, where Chris provides an informed look at water-related topics in the news – along with a deeper examination and historical perspective on what’s really going with the water issues that Georgia grapples with.
Besides lending his intellect, Chris also is generous in lending a helping hand. In 2010 he volunteered for all seven days of Paddle Georgia – serving as trip historian, first aid provider, boat hauler, and boat portage porter. He is also involved in local water issues in Athens as a volunteer board member with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, where he was a key part in the community grassroots team that responded to a massive chemical spill into Trail Creek in the summer of 2010.
Volunteer of the Year - Lee Becker (Athens and Oconee County, GA / Oconee Basin)
Lee Becker’s contributions to the Oconee County area are twofold: beginning with the formation of the Friends of Barber Creek in early 2006, he has been a key observer of issues – environmental and otherwise – that formerly received little attention in the county. Also since 2006, however, he has used his Oconee County Observations blog to become perhaps the most important news source focusing on issues facing Oconee County. It is not a stretch to say that Lee, who is both a professor of journalism and a 21st-century citizen journalist, has changed the landscape in Oconee County. To take just one example, his coverage of plans for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in the Apalachee River basin has been unequaled by any newspaper in the region, small or large. The facts and the story have come from Lee, and without them we fellow activists interested in the reservoir’s planning would be at a significant disadvantage – if we were even aware of all the issues at play. His dogged pursuit of information that should be readily available to the public – and his lack of hesitation to call upon relevant open records laws in doing so – has made his first-hand, one-man-show reportage invaluable. Information is power, of course, and Lee’s dispensing of information contributes directly to an environment of citizen empowerment on a whole range of issues – especially those related to growth, sustainability and the Oconee River basin – that will continue to change his county for the better for years to come.
Conservationist of the Year - Gordon Rogers (Albany, GA / Satilla and Flint Basins)
Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers is a stalwart of the river protection community in Georgia. He became the Flint Riverkeeper last fall, after the organization received its Waterkeeper Alliance license in June of 2008, but Gordon has been a part of our collective efforts at river preservation for many years. A founding board member of the Altamaha Riverkeeper organization, Gordon served as the Satilla Riverkeeper for five years from 2004 to 2009, working diligently with local municipalities and officials to protect wetlands and floodplains, investigating altered hydrology and stormwater flows in the Satilla basin, and seeing to the health of the river from its blackwater sources to its saltwater estuary.
Gordon brought this wealth of experience to the Flint Riverkeeper when he came to the new organization in November of last year. The creation of the Flint Riverkeeper has been a major step forward in the work of protecting Georgia’s waterways. The organization’s inception and its hiring of Gordon Rogers have come at a time when the Flint River faces critical threats, including (but not limited to) the proposals to dam the river in its spectacular lower Piedmont runs. In the months since he started at a new office in Albany, Gordon has been busy building more support for the organization and making its case to citizens and elected officials throughout the Flint basin and at the Capitol. GRN recognizes Gordon as the River Conservationist of the Year for all of his work past, present and future. Gordon’s passion for protecting rivers, his understanding of how rivers work, and his ability to bring people together to protect waterways have led to many successes for Georgia rivers, and we hope they will lead to many more.
Watershed Group of the Year - Coosa River Basin Initiative (Rome, GA / Coosa River Basin)
Since its founding in 1992, CRBI’s advocacy, education, restoration and water monitoring programs have helped improve water quality in the Coosa River Basin and have helped citizens better understand water resource issues. The organization’s major accomplishments include:
Winning a half-million dollar settlement against a developer for Clean Water Act violations that is being used to conserve natural lands along the rivers and provide public access for fishing, boating, and paddling.
Winning a lawsuit requiring the EPA to set limits on the amount of pollution allowed to enter already-polluted waterways.
Stopping a plan to “transfer” metro Atlanta sewage to the Coosa River Basin by working successfully with state legislators to force metro Atlanta communities to rethink their growth strategies.
Stopping a hot water discharge on Smith-Cabin Creek in Floyd County by Temple-Inland Paperboard & Packaging.
Training hundreds of citizens to monitor rivers and creeks throughout their river basin. Trends in water quality are noted and any unusual findings are researched to ensure no illegal activities are affecting water quality.
Teaching hundreds of the children about water pollution control and water protection in classrooms.
Getting hundreds of local people out on their rivers through their regular guided river trips.
Celebrating and raising needed funds at their many events including an annual fish fry, adventure race, community WaterFest, and River Revelry celebration.
Educating thousands of Coosa River Basin citizens in civic meetings, public forums, workshops, print and broadcast media, website, blog, and in their quarterly newsletter.
Working alongside fellow river, environmental, and conservation groups to advocate for strong statewide protections for our waterways.
Their fight continues as they work to stop transfers of water from their river basin, floodplain development, and a proposed reservoir on Shoal Creek - a tributary to the Etowah River in Dawson Forest.
Volunteer of the Year - Jim Butler, Paul Deloach & Mark Woodall
Thanks to the leadership of Mark Woodall, Paul Deloach and Jim Butler, the Flint Riverkeeper was officially formed and licensed by the national Waterkeeper Alliance to protect and preserve the Flint. Together, they organized local communities to create an organization to protect the Flint against current threats brought about by the drought and proposals to dam the river. Mark Woodall is a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and lives in Woodland, GA, where he has a tree farm. Paul Deloach of Andersonville is a Business Development Manager for Pellicano Construction and a famous cave diver. Jim Butler is a lawyer with the firm Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer, LLP, in Columbus.
Conservationist of the Year - Neill Herring
Neill has been lobbying in the Georgia General Assembly since the 1980’s and is currently a lobbyist for Sierra Club and Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. With his vast knowledge of environmental issues and experience working with legislators, Neill is a tremendous resource for the environmental community. His dedication, insights and tenacity have helped to protect our rivers countless times.
Watershed Group of the Year - Chattooga Conservancy
The Chattooga Conservancy was founded in 1991 by a small group of activists and was one of the first watershed protection groups in the eastern United States. Their initial work was instrumental in causing a major reduction in intensive timber harvesting and road-building on national forest lands in the watershed. Throughout their history and today, they can be credited with major accomplishments and actions that effectively serve to protect the Chattooga River.
Volunteer of the Year - Bonny Putney
Bonny Putney, Buford, GA. Known as the “Trash Queen”, Bonny is a tireless and enthusiastic advocate for Georgia’s rivers and lakes. She is instrumental in getting citizens involved in cleaning up Georgia’s waterways through her work organizing clean ups on Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River and serving as a board member for Rivers Alive. Bonny has spent most of her life caring about and helping the environment. If there is a trash cleanup, a paddling trip or any other river event in the area, you can expect to find Bonny Putney in charge or helping out. With a corporate background in handling hazardous waste materials, Bonny naturally gravitated towards community clean-up projects. Her first experience with large citizen events was helping develop and run the “Fall and Spring into Recycling” Campaign in the 1990s. For the past six years, she has been a board member of Rivers Alive, Georgia’s annual volunteer waterway cleanup event. Bonny helped Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organize six cleanups last year. With help from 40 volunteers over two weekends, the group removed 350 pounds of trash from the Chattahoochee between Highway 115 Bridge and Belton Bridge, including tires, chairs and the usual cans and plastic bottles. Bonny says that cleaning up trash gives her an immediate sense of gratification as she helps to turn a littered eyesore into a beautiful vista. She participates in Georgia River Network’s “Paddle Georgia” each year and also writes an article for the Georgia Canoe Association called “Trash Talk.” She has had photographs published in various lake magazines and newspapers, and she likes to take trash and transform it into art and yard projects. The river community is appreciative to have an individual like Bonny Putney mobilizing volunteers and translating her passion for rivers into tangible, visible results for many of Georgia’s waterways.
Conservationist of the Year - Frank Sagona
Frank Sagona, Varnell, GA. Frank is the Director of the Conasauga River Alliance. His leadership in the restoration and preservation of the watershed, as well as his commitment to the education of those within its boundaries, has had significant results for the Conasauga River, a locally and nationally significant resource that hosts more than 90 species of fish and 25 species of freshwater mussels. The Conasauga River Alliance achieved several milestones in 2007, the 10th anniversary of the organization. These include “on-the-ground” fixes, extensive press coverage of Alliance activities, an increase in sponsorship members, helping fund and distribute more than 650 copies of the new “Field Guide to Fishes of the Conasauga River System”, implementing a successful golf tournament fund raiser in September, and increased membership. Frank is involved with several grants that fund work in the watershed. More than $2.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions will be invested in water quality improvements in the Conasauga by the Alliance and the Limestone Valley RC & D to address polluted runoff over a 12 year period. Under Frank’s leadership, the Alliance completed the first phase of a restoration project at the historic and popular Varnell Springs. The site is now used as an outdoor classroom for area elementary classes and school groups to observe the water quality and aquatic life of north Georgia limestone springs. Greg Jones, President of the Conasausga River Alliance, says of Frank, "Frank Sagona is a dependable individual, whose hard work and dedication to the Conasauga River watershed is evident through his words, and even more so through his actions. His tireless efforts in the restoration and preservation of the watershed, as well as, his commitment to the education of those within its boundaries are to be commended."
Watershed Group of the Year - High Falls Towaliga Watershed Alliance
High Falls Towaliga Watershed Alliance, Jackson, Ga. The High Falls Towaliga Watershed Alliance is a citizen-based group working to identify and resolve environmental issues; to improve and protect High Falls Lake and its watershed; to interact with local, state and federal agencies to preserve High Falls Lake and its environs; to promote fellowship, education and communication; and to improve the quality of life for members and area residents. The Alliance is run by a 13 member, volunteer, executive board. With a budget of $3000, 160 members, and community involvement in five counties, the alliance continues to grow in numbers and its role in protecting the watershed. Activities include participation in the Adopt A Lake Program for High Falls Lake and park and river cleanups on the Towaliga River and High Falls Road. They also organize local activities such as a 4th of July boat parade. The Alliance works with all local governments and state representatives. They worked tirelessly with the Lamar County officials to defeat a C&D landfill proposed for the watershed. They also succeeded in getting a new sewer line to local residents, blocking zoning to allow an apartment complex on the shore of the Towaliga River, and were able to resolve a land dispute about the High Falls Lake shoreline. They have even had the time to isolate the cause of Fecal Coliform in lake water to failing septic tanks. The watershed encompasses 200 square miles and is part of the Ocmulgee River basin.
Sally Bethea River Champion Award - Sally Bethea
This is a new award established as a lifetime achievement award in honor of Sally’s leadership in protecting Georgia’s water resources and in celebration of Georgia River Network’s ten year anniversary. This award will be given every ten years.
Sally Bethea is Riverkeeper, Director, and Founder of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. She served on the Department of Natural Resources Board, has been listed several years as one of Georgia Trend’s “100 Most Influential Georgians”, and is cofounder of the Georgia Water Coalition. Sally has been a friend and role model to each of Georgia’s waterkeeper groups and to many others in Georgia’s conservation community. Her ability of “speaking truth to power” characterizes Sally’s 25 plus-year career of effectively advocating for Georgia’s swamps, streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes. Sally is an important, statewide voice for water planning, and a strong advocate of watershed groups outside of her own. She spearheaded the effort that led to the “Atlanta Sewer Lawsuit”, a victory that is still unfolding in terms of clean water in the Chattahoochee. This and her many other efforts have paved the way for other Riverkeeper groups in Georgia, and officials take notice when a watershed group comes to the table.
Volunteer of the Year - Diane Minick
Diane Minick, from Canton, GA. Diane became the chair of Upper Etowah River Alliance (UERA) in 2004, and has since invested commendable amounts of time and energy into bringing renewed energy and focus to this important watershed organization. She has been partly responsible for bringing over $500,000 in grant money to the Etowah watershed, and is just as passionate about helping with the educational aspects of UERA’s mission, leading programs for children and adults on raingardens, stormwater pollution and water quality. Diane was a teacher for a number of years, and now operates a business which installs raingardens, stormwater management systems, and other Low Impact Design techniques. Diane has inspired countless people to get involved in river conservation through her work with Adopt-a-Stream, UERA, and the Georgia Women Flyfishers Association.
Conservationist of the Year - Chandra Brown
Chandra Brown of Metter, GA, is the Executive Director and Riverkeeper of Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper. Chandra is an exemplary organizer and champion for her watershed, as well as all of coastal Georgia. Chandra has served as a leader to OCRK as they have evolved and become an increasingly stronger and more sustainable organization. She has been instrumental in building a coalition of groups that serves to protect coastal water resources. Described by her colleagues as properly aggressive and thoroughly professional, Chandra has made many trips to Atlanta to speak on behalf of the resource and communities. Chandra is a team player and an active member of the Georgia Water Coalition. With limited resources, Chandra works on many issues including groundwater protection, mercury and the “Buy Dry Land” campaign.
Watershed Group of the Year (Staffed) - Altamaha Riverkeeper
Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK) was organized in 1999 by a couple of crabbers who were watching their livelihood fail, and in less than a decade, has accomplished more for the protection of the Altahmaha watershed than anyone—even the founding members—thought possible. Through the tireless efforts of founder and Riverkeeper James Holland and Executive Director Deborah Sheppard, ARK’s presence on the Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers has had such a large impact in the watershed that business is conducted differently as a result. Some politicians, loggers, business people and landowners even seek the advice of ARK before beginning activities that could breach water quality laws. ARK has become widely known and respected in a community to which environmental organizations were completely foreign in 1999. Now, in addition to doing outreach, education and monitoring, ARK has become a major resource for citizens in twenty counties to report water quality violations—especially regarding erosion and inadequate stream buffers—and to help citizens identify problems with local industry, wastewater treatment facilities, sources of agricultural runoff, and major development sites. ARK also works with environmental attorneys and the Southern Environmental Law Center to prosecute criminal polluting, and in every case it has brought before a federal judge has been won.
Watershed Group of the Year (All Volunteer)- Broad River Watershed Association
Broad River Watershed Association (BRWA) has been very active in the past year. Based out of Danielsville, Georgia, and founded in 1991, BRWA has brought the river to its community over the years, and has lately begun to increase citizen involvement through creating a watershed monitoring program. Two representatives in the organization have achieved Adopt-A-Stream Trainer Status, and are using it to lead visual, chemical and biological monitoring workshops with community members. BRWA plans to gain baseline water quality data for the watershed to determine sites that need further investigation, and is involving youth in the project by sampling a creek in the Broad River watershed with a local middle school class each month. Through this effort, the students are learning about what combination of biological and chemical ingredients make a river healthy, and what it takes to be good watershed stewards.
Volunteer of the Year - Bud Queen
Bud Queen has been described as a man with his hand out, not to receive, but to give. He currently serves as board member and chairman of the water quality committee for the High Falls Lake Association. He has served as president, vice-president and board member of the Georgia Wilderness Society, a member of the Monroe County Greenspace Committee and a member of the RiversAlive Advisory Board. He was winner of the Georgia Wilderness Society’s 2003 Gene Espy award for Environmental Stewardship. He continues to offer his service and years of experience, knowledge and skill to a number of organizations, projects and community events. This includes volunteering his time at every arising opportunity if not already discovering ways to develop the opportunities themselves. Bud is a natural leader and his compassionate and outgoing personality makes him the perfect candidate for teaching others how to take a more active role in the pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world. In 2005, he helped the Butts County Henderson Middle School environmental program with the adoption and monitoring of a local stream. He collects water samples from many lakes and rivers within the region and is the only Adopt-A-Stream certified Chemical trainer in the Upper-Middle Ocmulgee watershed, passing on his expertise so that others may become certified monitors. Bud is an inspiration to others working to protect Georgia’s rivers.
Conservationist of the Year - Ann Bergstrom, Executive Director of Chattahoochee Nature Center
Ann Bergstrom, Director of the Chattahoochee Nature Center for almost 6 years, has provided exemplary leadership and dedication to working for the Chattahoochee River. She is known for her vision, innovative strategies, collaborative work, and desire to be part of the solution. Her tireless commitment has motivated and inspired her staff, volunteers and board. She has built a team that is focused on educating the public about the river and its importance and has spent many hours herself advocating for the river. Under her leadership, the center has undergone a significant transformation that could only have been made possible with the right combination of determination, efficiency and enthusiasm. As an educational resource, the Chattahoochee Nature Center has expanded its public outreach and grown its membership to more than 2,000 families. To accommodate this new popularity, the Center is gathering capital for a new building that will allow for new programs related to protection of our watersheds. With Ann’s resourcefulness and leadership, this goal will undoubtedly be realized.
Watershed Group of the Year - Upper Oconee Watershed Network
The Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN) is an Athens-based, non-profit organization run by a 20-member, all volunteer Board of Directors working to protect the Oconee River through a variety of activities focused on encouraging public awareness and involvement. UOWN has played a major role in the education of local citizens about water quality issues in the Upper Oconee River watershed. UOWN has always worked hard to establish strong partnerships other groups and local officials to solve problems and enable citizens to participate in water quality monitoring. UOWN has an active monitoring program that has existed for over seven years. UOWN is responsible for monitoring the slow recovery of Hunnicutt Creek after a major oil spill that left it significantly polluted. In 2004, through careful monitoring and surveillance, UOWN volunteers helped locate an overflowing sewer that had been leaking into Trail Creek. Working in cooperation with Athens Clarke County, the sewer was repaired and bacteria levels quickly decreased in the stream. Also, following the 2004 UOWN River Rendezvous event, it was observed that a stream sample from one site at the Botanical Garden of Georgia had an anomalously high level of dissolved nitrate. Follow up studies conducted by UOWN volunteers revealed that the pattern of contamination in the stream and it’s tributaries revealed the likely cause to be one or more nearby agricultural farms operated by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of the University of Georgia. Since the disclosure of this problem, UOWN volunteers have worked with the University to further examine the problem. UOWN continues to watch over the Oconee River and its watershed to ensure protection of water quality.
Volunteer of the Year - Gloria Taylor of Save Our Satilla
Conservationist of the Year - James Holland, Altamaha Riverkeeper
Watershed Group of the Year - Canoochee Riverkeeper
Award of Special Merit - Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan