August 18, 2020. The following article was published in the August Citrus County Villager.

Water Warriors Wanted Gary Rankel, the PackerYaker    

I’ve been a big fan of The Waterkeeper Alliance (www.waterkeeper.org), a worldwide organization headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., comprised of more than 300 grassroots groups involved in patrolling and protecting over 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents.  It includes 13 groups of dedicated community stakeholders in Florida (www.waterkeepersflorida.org) engaged in efforts to restore and maintain drinkable, fishable and swimmable water on the Indian River Lagoon, Suwannee River, St. Johns River, Apalachicola River, Lake Okeechobee, Biscayne Bay and other waterways.       

I’ve often wondered why no Waterkeeper Organization exists in our area to assist in addressing concerns associated with our precious underground aquifer and to help restore and protect our outstanding surface waters.  Recently, I decided to investigate what it would take to create a Waterkeeper Group for the Nature Coast.    I reached out to Alliance officials and was advised that approval of a Nature Coast Waterkeeper Organization would make sense providing it could meet a number of established criteria.  Chief among them is the requirement for a full-time (40 hours or more per week) paid person serving as the group’s Waterkeeper who also would have access to a Waterkeeper patrol boat.  The group would have to establish its own 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization or be sponsored by one, and the Waterkeeper’s salary would have to be derived solely through donations or grants to the group.  Like the other groups, it would operate autonomously within the Alliance.        

Should such a formal Waterkeeper Organization and Waterkeeper Position not be readily feasible, an optional Waterkeeper Affiliate Group could be established comprised of one or more paid employees and / or volunteers who would be expected to put in at least 20 or 30 hours per week.  Such a group would also have to establish its own 501 (c) (3) organization or be sponsored by one.  Its members would have to adhere to all Waterkeeper quality standards and guidelines, including attending Alliance meetings and training at least once a year, and, importantly, have a desire to eventually become a fully licensed Waterkeeper Organization.     

Should persons be found agreeing to assume the roles and responsibilities of one of these organizations, the next step would be to direct a Letter of Intent to Waterkeepers Florida for approval.  Among other things, the letter would include the biography and resume of the person who would serve as Waterkeeper or Affiliate, the area of proposed jurisdiction, and a financial plan, annual budget and fundraising strategy.  If approved, the application would be submitted to the Waterkeeper Alliance Recruiting Committee for further review.   

I had initially thought about perhaps applying to become a Watekeeper for the Nature Coast, but found the process and requirements a bit too much to take on.  Any thought I entertained about following up on the idea evaporated after learning about the time commitment involved and the lead role I’d have to play in establishing / participating in a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.  For one thing, I’m retired and certainly not looking for anything approaching full time employment.  And, I don’t think my kayak would qualify as a Waterkeeper patrol boat.  Even the time requirement relative to serving as a volunteer Affiliate would seemingly cut far too much into my fishing time.   

So, I decided to contact a few environmentally oriented folks I know around the Nature Coast seeking suggestions for good Waterkeeper and Affiliate candidates.  I got a few names, made some calls, and had no takers.  Most of the folks I chatted with seemed to have little interest in assuming a Waterkeeper role with salary totally dependent on donations, especially given our current economic climate.  

The requirements for a new Waterkeepers program may seem imposing, however, much time and effort goes into conducting meaningful waterway protection programs.  I assume the Alliance wants to ensure that any new program will be properly staffed and effective.   I encourage anyone willing to take on such duties and become a water warrior for the Nature Coast to contact Florida Waterkeepers (www.waterkeepersflorida.org) for further information.         

Peaceful Paddles, Bracing Battles and Happy Landings. Nature Coast Kayak Fishes (http://fishingkayaks.us)