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River Network's River Heroes Award celebrates rivers and those who protect them by recognizing some of our victories and honoring those who provide us with leadership and inspiration along the way.
All too frequently, individuals and groups involved with natural resource conservation fail to celebrate their hard-won successes. Too often, important victories are allowed to be overshadowed by the next issue or threat. Challenges always lie ahead, but we need to take time each year to celebrate our achievements and the people who make them possible.
To weave a celebratory thread throughout the watershed community, in 2001, River Network created The National River Heroes Award. The National River Heroes are nominated by peers, selected by peers and celebrated with peers at the National River Rally.
River Network especially thanks Tom's of Maine for their support as Presenting Sponsor of the National River Heroes Awards.
Our 2012 River Heroes honorees are:
Dr. Azzam Alwash — Nature Iraq (Sulaimani, Iraq): Dr. Alwash spent much of his childhood on the edges of Iraq’s southern Mesopotamian marshlands and when he left Iraq in 1978, he took with him memories that would inspire a life of activism aimed at restoring and preserving Iraq’s ecosystem. After working for 20 years as a soil and environmental engineering consultant in California, Dr. Alwash founded the Eden Again Project, prompted by a report detailing 90 percent of the Mesopotamian Marshlands as “one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters.” The project led to the eventual formation of Nature Iraq, which now has over 35 staff throughout Iraq.
Terry Backer, Long Island Soundkeeper (Norwalk, Conn): A leading voice for reducing polluted runoff into the Long Island Sound, Terry has developed a program to run sewage-pumping boats for recreational vessels, was a key player in the recent EPA ruling curtailing future mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, and helped reduce sewage dumping into the sound. As one of the founders of Waterkeeper Alliance, Terry has helped spur the creation of nearly 200 waterkeeper organizations in 21 countries.
Susan Heathcote, Iowa Environmental Council (Des Moines, Iowa): Trained as a scientist with a passion for improving Iowa’s water quality, Susan has sought to bring public awareness to the natural processes governing water quality, helping found the first volunteer monitoring program in the state. Susan has provided technical leadership on the Council since 1996 on many issues, including water quality, water monitoring, agricultural drainage wells, livestock manure management and Iowa's hazardous site program.
John Wathen, Friends of Hurricane Creek (Tuscaloosa, Ala.): For more than 20 years, John has worked to protect the Hurricane Creek from the varied sources of pollution threatening its life and health. John consistently steps into the fray when the creek is in danger. He was one of the first waterkeepers to go to Tennessee to investigate a coal ash spill in the Emory River and when the BP Oil Spill began, he immediately went to the Gulf to document damage. In 2011 when John’s home and community were destroyed by a tornado, after ensuring people were safe and that supplies were distributed throughout the community he turned his attention to leading restoration efforts in the creek.
George Wolfe, L.A. River Expeditions (Venice, Calif.): George organized, led and documented the first paddling trip on the entire length of the Los Angeles River and later his actions proved integral to the EPA's designation of the entire river as a "traditional navigable waterway," giving it all the federal protections of a real river. Since then, George has helped guide safe, recreational-educational canoe and kayak excursions down the river and, in 2011, helped create the officially sanctioned pilot boating program.