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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar Rohler talks river news with CFRW riverkeeper Kemp Burdette

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Read the latest Q&A with Cape Fear River Watch Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette, what’s happening with our water sources and how to get involved.

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The Talmudic legend is in each generation there are 36 righteous people whose goodness and work are essential for the world to survive. The 36 are not believed to be world leaders or wealthy, and their powers are usually only revealed in times of great peril.

BEST OF THE RIVER: Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette talks about our area’s award-winning Cape Fear River Watch and its programs . Courtesy photo.

BEST OF THE RIVER: Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette talks about our area’s award-winning Cape Fear River Watch and its programs. Courtesy photo.

In our community, we have a man who has dedicated his life to preserving our river. Kemp Burdette is our riverkeeper—you may have seen him on the national news confronting coal-ash dumping into the waterway. Or you might have followed his work after Hurricane Matthew, monitoring hog waste lagoons, and pushing for testing of the flood waters running into our waterways. In short, he is exerting tremendous effort and strength because our river is in peril. But he can’t do it alone—and he doesn’t. Winner of encore’s Best Of award for Best Environmental Group, Cape Fear River Watch flourishes because of an incredible group of dedicated citizens who make real and lasting impacts with daily endeavors to protect our drinking water.

As a regular consumer of drinking water, I am endlessly curious about what the river watch is up to—and I’m immeasurably grateful for all their hard work. Burdette was kind enough to give encore an update about the work of river watch, our waterways and how everyone can take action.

encore (e): Can you explain in plain language what the roll back of the Clean Water Rule over the last few weeks actually means? How will that impact us?

KB: The executive order begins the process of reducing the number of waterways and wetlands that will be protected under the definition of a “Water of the US.” That means a greater potential for more pollution in our Cape Fear River, the drinking water supply for one in five North Carolinians.

e: You said you just got back from the Waterkeeper Alliance board meeting in Alabama. Could you tell us a little about the national structure for the Waterkeeper Alliance and the meeting?

KB: The Waterkeeper Alliance is an international environmental advocacy organization. As the Cape Fear Riverkeeper, I am a member of the Alliance, supported by Cape Fear River Watch. There are over 300 waterkeepers worldwide on six continents, protecting local waterways. The Waterkeeper Alliance strengthens and grows that network of global clean-water activists.

The council is made up of waterkeepers elected by our peers to help lead the organization. I represent the 30 waterkeepers in the South Atlantic region. In Alabama, we discussed how we wanted the organization to grow, how waterkeepers in the US can respond to an increasingly hostile political and regulatory landscape, and a number of other issues.

e: What changes do you see coming on a state level to environmental policy and protections?

KB: At the state level, I am optimistic environmental protection will improve. It certainly could get no worse than it was under the McCrory administration. Leadership at the NC Department of Environmental Quality has changed—and, thankfully, protecting the environment seems to be a priority again.

I am less optimistic about the NC General Assembly. So far the veto-proof Republican majority seems to be quite willing to sacrifice the environment as part of their pro-business, antiregulation platform. We will all suffer for this short-sighted approach.

e: How is this better or worse for us? How does it compare with federal changes?

KB: I’m not sure if it is better or worse; we will have to wait and see. State environmental regulation by NCDEQ should improve, but I expect to see some pretty terrible laws come out of the general assembly. The EPA, the federal backstop for environmental regulations, will be weakened by the new administration. It will be interesting to see if NCDEQ can blunt any of that expected weakening.

e: What can North Carolinians do with regards to our state government to improve protections for our waterways and drinking water?

KB: People need to demand our leaders protect the environment, locally and at the state and federal levels. There is so much special-interest money in politics that elected officials can easily forget who they represent if people don’t remind them. Be in touch with elected officials. Go to meetings. Ask questions. Support groups that are doing the same thing.

e: What daily actions can we take in our personal lives?

KB: Voting, of course, is a big one. Being careful not to waste water means more water left in the river to support the ecosystem. Our water footprint is tied to our carbon footprint. Saving energy saves water, too. Using renewable energy prevents so many impacts fossil fuels have on water quality. One other big thing deals with the way we eat. There are more factory farms in the Cape Fear River Basin than any place on Earth. These facilities have enormous impacts on our water quality. Giving up factory-farmed meat in favor of locally and sustainably raised meat is an easy way to protect drinking water. Reducing the amount of meat in a diet altogether can have positive impacts on the planet, health and wallet.

e: Can you tell us a little bit about what is coming up for river watch and how people can get involved?

KB: We have a ton of activities folks can get involved in. We host free education seminars and a pancake breakfast [at our headquarters] on the first Saturday of every month, clean-ups on the second Saturday (next one is at Sturgeon Creek, Mar. 25), and paddles on the third Saturday. We are starting a Creek Watcher program—folks can sign up to care for a waterway they feel connected to and do some simple monitoring to help us better understand water quality here. We have special events like LakeFest, coming up on April 15th, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., which is a fun family environmental education day at Greenfield Lake.

[River watch also has a summer camp to give children an opportunity to build a conscious relationship with our waterways.]

e: What do you wish the public knew and understood about CFRW?

KB: We try to be the voice of the river. We use science to push for common-sense policies that protect the one thing we all need to survive: clean water. But we can’t do it alone. We need the community to stand with us. Remember it’s your river!!


Want to adopt a creek that feeds into the river? Well, CFRW has a program for that, too. Email Kay-Lynn Hernandez at for more info.

This year they are the beneficiaries of Forward Motion Dance Company’s “Arts Sensation” fundraiser at Thalian Hall. Saturday, May 6, 7:30 p.m.

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