Earlier this month, Marc Yaggi, the Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, gave an extensive interview in the Huffington Post. Puget Soundkeeper is one of the founding members of the Waterkeeper Alliance, the largest and fastest-growing organization focused exclusively on clean water. The movement began with a group of fishermen on the Hudson River who saw illegal pollution damaging the waterway and hurting their livelihood, and decided to do something about it.

Marc’s interview is worth reading. It gives a fascinating history of how the movement began, and highlights the unique role of Waterkeepers in the community.

“By the time you got to the 1960s the Hudson River was nearly dead and it was a national laughing stock. They made jokes about it on late night TV shows and nobody in the 60s or 70s went in or around the river during that time. People were fleeing from it, but the sorry state of the river gave birth to the Waterkeeper movement, because at that time in the 60s while the river was dying and nearly dead though it had been one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the North Atlantic.

That sorry state of the river being dead, gave birth to this movement, and it was because of a set of blue-collar recreational/commercial fishermen who had been fishing that river for generations. They learned about it from their parents, who learned about it from their grandparents, and they had planned on passing it on to future generations. A lot of them were in the military and they came back from the wars to find the river was dead, and they were angry. They looked out and what they saw was polluters getting rich, money being taken out of fishermen’s pockets, and food being taken off their table by all these industrial polluters that were getting wealthy. They got together in 1966 at a Veteran of Foreign Wars Hall just upriver in Croton, and they organized what they were going to do to solve the problem. At that time you could tell what color they were painting the cars at General Motors in Tarrytown because it would change the water of the river to red, yellow, etc.. Penn Central Railroad was discharging millions of gallons of oil into the river, and there were millions of insults up and down the river including municipal sewage, industrial waste and so on.”

Hudson Riverkeeper, the very first Waterkeeper, was founded in 1983. Fifteen years later there were more than 30 Waterkeepers. Today there are over 330 Waterkeeper organizations and affiliates on six continents defending communities’ clean water rights.

We still need change on a massive scale to achieve the goal of safe, healthy waterways and access to water resources for people worldwide. But looking at the momentum of the Waterkeeper movement, it’s easier to imagine that future.

Some highlights from Waterkeepers around the world: