In News, River Rally

River Network Announces 2019 Award Winners

May 28, 2019 [Boulder, Colo.] – River Network will honor four recipients as River Heroes at River Rally, the annual conference for the river conservation and water advocacy community. River Network will also celebrate the recipient of River Network’s Emerging Leader Award and this year’s Compton Award recipient. River Rally 2019 will be held in Cleveland, Ohioto commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last time the Cuyahoga River caught fire.  

The River Hero Award, currently in its 18th year, honors leaders who go above and beyond what is expected of them on behalf of our nation’s waters and rivers. River Heroes are nominated by fellow water advocates, river conservationists, elected officials, community members, and others, and are celebrated at River Rally, the annual conference hosted by River Network ( 

This year’s awards ceremony at River Rally will also include our first Emerging Leader recognition. This award recognizes someone early in their professional career who deserves attention for their work at the intersection of water and equity.  

Rounding out the awards ceremony is the Compton Award, a special recognition from River Network’s Board of Directors to one individual whose admirable and noteworthy achievements have benefited multiple communities and rivers over many decades.  

“Access to clean water and healthy rivers is not equitable today in the United States,” says Nicole Silk, President of River Network. “The individuals being recognized this year are my heroes. Their passionate determination reminds us that nobody should be left behind. Their stories and insights will elevate our sights and inspire more people to become agents for change.”  

The 2019 River Hero award recipients include:  

Dennis Chestnut, Founding Executive Director of Groundwork Anacostia River D.C; Washington, D.C. A lifelong resident of Ward 7 in the far-northeast section of Washington, D.C., Chestnut is a master carpenter and vocational educator, but his dedication to youth development, community improvement, and civic duty has led to his involvement in many conservation projects. Chestnut is the co-founder of the Center for Green Urbanism and chairman of the Friends of Watts Branch. He is a board member of the East of the River Steel Band, SEED D.C. Public Charter School, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.  

San Juana “Juani” Olivares, President and CEO, Genesee County Hispanic and Latino Collaborative; Flint, MI. At the time of the Flint water crisis, Olivares was a volunteer educator at GCHLC, teaching the Spanish-speaking residents of Flint how to navigate the crisis and find clean and safe water. Today, as President and CEO, Olivares uses her knowledge of the needs of her community and her resolve to make a difference to host a range of activities, including educational programming, social services, a water and filter pick up location, a food pantry, and health fairs.  

Monica Lewis-Patrick, Co-Founder & President of We the People of Detroit; Detroit, Michican. Lewis-Patrick is actively engaged in almost every struggle on behalf of Detroit residents. As a former lead legislative policy analyst for Detroit City Council, Lewis-Patrick has authored legislation, conducted research, and delivered constituency services to thousands of city residents. She is a graduate of East Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work and sociology and a Master of Arts of Liberal Studies with a concentration in criminal justice/sociology and public management. She is currently one of the leaders at the forefront of the water rights struggle in Detroit.  

James Rasmussen, Executive Director of the Duwamish Tribe Advisory Council; Seattle, Washington. Rasmussen has been an active voice in environmental, habitat, and community issues along the Duwamish River and in the Seattle region for more than 30 years. Rasmussen has played a fundamental role in the EPA’s formation of the Duwamish Superfund Roundtable, which will inform the next phase of the Cleanup Plan. His primary focus in his current role is elevating those most in need of climate justice, including low-income community members, people of color, youth, and elders. 

Also being recognized in the spirit of the River Heroes award is: 

Mike Fremont, Co-Founder of American Rivers and the Mill Creek AllianceCincinnati, OhioFremont is being recognized in the spirit of the River Hero award, having made a tremendous impact on the health and protections for America’s waterways since the 1970s. At the age of 96, Fremont continues to run and canoe competitively in his home state of Ohio. Fremont was a key figure in starting what are now known as American Rivers and the Mill Creek Alliance, formerly Rivers Unlimited and the Mill Creek Watershed Council. Fremont continues to take an active role in many local projects advocating for healthy waterways. 

The inaugural recipient of the Emerging Leader Award is: 

Kevin Jeffery, Graduate Student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture; Austin, TXA student of landscape architecture, Jeffery is the creator of the Blue Index project and a burgeoning force in the water world. Blue Index, a participatory research project, strives to measure emotional responses to water in the community and will be used to inform Planet Texas 2050’s DataX project. Before returning to school, Jeffery worked in water management in Washington D.C. for public, private and commercial entities. He plans to return to the public sector upon graduation. 

The 2019 Compton Award recipient is:  

Mark Van Putten, President and CEO, Wege Foundation; Grand Rapids, MI. Prior to his current position at the Wege Foundation, Van Putten served for more than 20 years in various roles at the National Wildlife Federation, including President and CEO. Van Putten’s advocacy and litigation career focused on water-related issues at all levels of decision making – international, national, regional, and local. On the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, he was named one of 30 nationwide “Clean Water Heroes.” Van Putten is a founding director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Michigan School of Law, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1982. Van Putten has also served as a Visiting Scholar in the Energy and Climate Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  

All awards will be presented on June 22nd at River Rally 2019, the annual gathering of water protectors and conservationists hosted by River Network.  

For more about River Hero Awards, visit 

About River Network 

River Network ( the foremost nonprofit connecting more than 6,000 nonprofits, agencies, businesses, and communities for greater local impact and healthier rivers across the U.S. River Network envisions a future of clean and ample water for people and nature, where local caretakers are well-equipped, effective, and courageous champions for our rivers.

Leave a Comment