Without enforcement, compliance cannot be guaranteed—but without citizen engagement, enforcement can fall to the back burner. And without funding, none of it is possible. It is Dean Naujoks’ job to ensure that regulatory agencies are creating consequences for Clean Water Act violators. The Waterkeeper Alliance representative spoke with SWS Associate Editor Elizabeth Lisican about how he advances his group's cause.
Elizabeth Lisican: The Waterkeeper Alliance takes a grassroots advocacy approach. Why is this important?
Dean Naujoks: Without citizen engagement, you really can’t hope to win on most of your issues. From time to time there’s a lawsuit that we can file without any citizen involvement, win and correct the problem. But for long-term change—if you’re going to change a broken system or raise the consciousness of the public and elected officials that they need to focus more on clean water and whatever steps are necessary to protect water quality—you have to get citizens involved in your work. It’s absolutely critical, particularly on an issue like storm water, which is publicly very misunderstood.
Lisican: What specifically are you doing to help foster more understanding of storm water in the collective conscious?
Naujoks: As the Riverkeeper in the Neuse River basin, I was getting calls all the time about runoff from construction sites. There are very few inspectors to oversee active construction activity.
We saw a project that was being done by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper called “Get the Dirt Out.” It was a good first step of getting citizens trained to go out and monitor construction sites and properly report problems. However, I felt like the program needed to be tweaked because it was a two-hour training; there’s a lot to learn on the Clean Water Act and sedimentation pollution control laws and how best management practices work. I brought this project to North Carolina in 2007, and since then the North Carolina Riverkeepers have trained about 850 citizens to go out and monitor construction sites. Ours is about an eight-hour training.
Lisican: How do you stay resourceful when funding is hard to come by?
Naujoks: There’s a huge education component built into this, so we have gotten some grant funding.
We wanted to engage people in a campaign to advocate for change to strengthen sedimentation and pollution control laws, and we also wanted to strengthen enforcement abilities of the agencies. Some of that is going to be through pressure; some is going to be through changes in the act; and some is going to be through changes in the North Carolina general permit for construction runoff.
Lisican: With so many critical issues, how do you prioritize your efforts?
Naujoks: We try to get the biggest “bang for your buck.” For instance, if we get a good TMDL strategy for High Rock Lake, it’s going to require all the sewage treatment plants upstream for 4,000 sq miles to upgrade their sewage treatment plants, ratchet down nitrogen and phosphorous levels and implement storm water requirements.
That is a big bang for our buck rather than me trying to sue every failing sewage plant and then trying to nudge other plants that are meeting minimal water quality standards. I focus on what are the bigger priorities and bigger threats to the river that we face, then try to get funding to work on those priorities. And it is hard work.