Environment America Blog

Paddling against the wind

By Russell Bassett
Clean Water Digital Campaigner

For Margo Pellegrino — who recently completed a 1,700 mile journey from New York to Chicago in an outrigger canoe — advocating for clean water can be like “paddling against the wind on a windy day.”

“It can seem like you are not getting anywhere, because there are so many bad ideas out there like coastal development, removing stream buffers, and eliminating regulations to stop polluters.” said the mother of two from Medford Lakes, N.J. “The battle never ends, but as long as you keep paddling and keep moving forward, you well eventually get there.”

Margo started her journey in June, and I first caught up with her as she was heading through the locks of the Erie Canal. Now that she’s back home in Medford Lakes, N.J., she’s not slowed down any in her quest to protect our waterways and ensure clean water for all Americans.

“My paddling journeys are a symbol for what we can all do together to improve our water, to make things better for this watery world,” she said. “I’m encouraging people to be aware enough and involved enough to let our officials know how important clean water is to them, and to be involved in protecting their local waterways.”

Pellegrino’s a member of Environment New Jersey and recently joined them for a lobby day in Washington D.C. to talk clean water with the Garden State’s senators and representatives. She spoke with her policy makers about the importance of the EPA Clean Water Rule, which although not a silver-bullet solution, is the biggest step for clean water in more than a decade.

She pointed to Columbus, Ohio, as an example of the kinds of problems we’re facing as a nation. “The water in that area is so full of nitrates and phosphorous that there’s warnings that pregnant women shouldn’t drink the water,” she said. “So now Columbus is recommending a $35 million dollar upgrade to their water treatment facility. What!? Why not just stop the pollution? Why not crack down on the polluters causing the problem? Why are we letting big polluters get away with contaminating our water, and then using the public’s tax dollars to pay for the cleanup of that water?”

During her journey this summer, Pellegrino stayed with local residents, including sailors, fishermen, and others that depend on clean water for their livelihood.

“I was impressed with how well-versed people are with their own waterways. It’s something they really care about,” she said. “No matter where they sit on the political spectrum, the local residents I talked with are very concerned about water quality. There are more fans for clean water then there are fans for elected politicians. I wish our elected officials would remember that.”

On Thursday, Aug. 6, Environment New Jersey hosted a welcome home party for Margo that included a celebratory paddle along Rancocas Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River that provides drinking water for towns across Burlington County, the U.S. Army base Fort Dix, and is a source for the Delran intake, which provides South Jersey with the vast majority of its surface drinking water.

Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey’s director, hosted the welcome home paddle, and he described why Margo’s message resonates with so many people.

“I got to know Margo more and more because of her advocacy in South Jersey working to stop the (gas) pipelines,” O’Malley said. “She would show up again and again at meetings and be articulate about why we shouldn’t be building a pipeline through the Pinelands. It’s exciting to see our members out on the front lines. She’s got her ear to the ground, or her paddle to the water so to speak, and she cares deeply about the environment and our politics.”

Margo returned that appreciation, saying she respects Environment New Jersey’s ability to get Congress to listen.

“Elected officials like organizations that have people on the ground in their districts,” she said.  “Environment New Jersey’s door-to-door canvass is able to get a lot of constituents’ stories back to Congress, which is extremely valuable.”

Welcome home, Margo. May the wind forever be at your back.

The Clean Water Rule is under heavy attack right now in Congress. Please add your voice to the hundreds of thousands of Americans calling on Congress to support clean water.