John Wathen is the Hurricane Creekkeeper and founder of Friends of Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. An Alabama native who grew up on the Black Warrior River and served in the United States Navy, John is no stranger to water. John’s first endeavor in the river world was the formation of the Stroker’s Paddle Club in 1992. After being exposed to toxic chemical poisoning in his industrial day job, John quickly moved to become an environmentalist. In 1997, he helped found the Friends of Hurricane Creek. The organization became an official part of the Waterkeeper Alliance in 2005 and John was named the Hurricane Creekkeeper. He has been a strong watchdog, educator, and activist for Hurricane Creek, as well as many other important environmental causes.
John’s work goes well beyond the work of a typical river advocate. He has made a name for himself in Alabama and in the Southeast as a first responder to environmental disasters.
Coal Ash – John was one of the first environment activists on the scene when the TVA coal ash pond spilled into the Emory River in December 2008. He took samples, photographs, and video to document the damage and made certain they were provided to EPA, other authorities, and the media. Only a few weeks later, another coal ash spill happened in Widow’s Creek in Alabama, and, once again, John was first on the scene to take samples and document damage. He has continued to follow the TVA coal ash problem as residue was transported and dumped in impoverished Perry County, Alabama. John has documented the story of the Perry County residents who have been impacted by the landfill for 3 years.
BP Oil Disaster – When the Gulf Oil Spill occurred, John did not hesitate before he left for the coast. In partnership with SouthWings and many coastal Waterkeeper groups, he took photographs and video and used the power of the Internet to spread the reality of what was happening on the ground (or in the water) to the rest of the world. He has been interviewed by Al Jezeer, Rachel Maddow, and many other national and international media outlets for his work on the Gulf Oil Disaster.
Alabama Tornadoes – Last, but not least, is the action John has taken since the tragedy that literally hit home for him on April 27, 2011. When an EF5 tornado hit his hometown of Holt, Alabama, and devastated the nearby city of Tuscaloosa, killing dozens of people, and destroying the landscape surrounding Hurricane Creek, John sprang into action. As the head of the local EMA in Holt, John made sure people were safe and supplies were able to reach the community. He garnered volunteers from all across the state to help clear debris and secure people’s belongings, including securing safety for his own family members whose homes were badly damaged.