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Enlisting in the environmental navy? That's the BayKeeper idea.

Enlisting in the environmental navy? That's the BayKeeper idea Volunteer navies are weighing anchor to be water-quality watchdogs on the West Coast's biggest estuaries. San Francisco's BayKeeper program was the first in the West; its success has spawned one cousin in Seattle, and now people across the West are exploring the idea of banding together to protect threatened resources.

Based on the old English gamekeeper concept of stewardship and resource protection (and inspired by New York's Hudson River Keeper program), the nonprofit BayKeeper program aims to help clean up San Francisco Bay by putting volunteers out on the water to spot surface pollution -- a freighter dumping fouled bilge water, a pier with a leaky sewage pipe, a refinery hose spilling oil.

The San Francisco group formed in 1989 out of a concern that local agencies had the mandate but not the manpower to enforce the bay's fairly stringent environmental laws. "It made me mad to watch polluters dump when they thought nobody was looking -- now somebody's looking," said Michael Herz, the founding member.

That one-man navy is now a fleet -- some 300 volunteers watch over the bay at various times. The weapons they wield: provisions in many environmental laws (including the Clean Water Act) that allow citizens to file suit against polluters.

Volunteers go through a 10-week training program covering hazardous materials, water-quality monitoring procedures, oil spills, dredging, and more. At the end of it, they know how, and what to look for in the water, how to collect samples for analysis, and where to file reports. Four times a week, they chug off in their boats or kayaks or hike along the shore. To date, BayKeeper volunteers have reported more than 150 incidents, resulting in two major polluters being fined, several others being cited, and a continuing criminal investigation of an illegal dredging operation.

Besides on-the-water work, volunteers also may do research. To volunteer or learn more about how to start a program, call (415) 567-4401. To report any incident you observe on the bay, call (800) 533-7229 (KEEPBAY) in California.

The keeper concept roams the West

In Seattle, citizens concerned about growing environmental problems in Puget Sound have modeled a program after BayKeeper. Soundkeeper, sponsored by the Puget Sound Alliance, now has a patrol boat on the water, has begun to set up community education programs, and has started a "junior soundkeeper" group in schools. Soon it will open a six-session volunteer training program; for information on classes or to report a problem on the sound, call (800) 427-8438 in Washington.

To join a June 1 kayak trip in the Nisqually Delta, call Ken Moser at (206) 548-9343; charge is $50 with kayak, $25 if you bring your own (fee includes membership in Puget Sound Alliance).

Citizens in Morro Bay, San Diego, Santa Monica, and Tomales Bay and on the Columbia River are looking into forming similar programs. But bodies of water aren't the only resource the "keeper" concept may help; in Arizona, some residents are asking how to start a desertkeeper program to watch over fragile arid ecosystems, and in Yuba City, California, a small group proposes a valleykeeper to save wetlands and watch for pesticide misuse. For more information on these groups, call Bay Keeper.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Environmental Action
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Words:539
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