It was Earth Day, 1970, and Richie Garrett, president of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, stood before 100,000 onlookers gathered at Union Square in New York City. "The country has problems with drugs and crime and racial hatred," Garrett told the crowd. "But the way I figure it, clean water, clean air and a clean earth is the most important issue of all. If we lose our rivers, the other social problems will be dwarfed...we'll all drown in garbage."
Most of the people you encounter in Riverkeepers—and certainly its authors—seem to share Garrett's view. While such a perspective may at first seem a bit extreme, after a few chapters, readers are likely to find themselves beginning to concur.
Lucidly written by an impassioned activist (Cronin) and a determined attorney (Kennedy) who have been at the forefront of the movement to preserve the Hudson River, the narrative gets under way in the mid-1960s. That's when a group of sport and commercial fishermen and nature lovers banded together to sue the New York utility Con Edison and block construction of a water-pumping facility that threatened to send striped bass into extinction. Cronin and Kennedy relate tale after grisly tale of companies saving on disposal costs by illegally polluting the once-gin-clear Hudson with sewage, paper waste and chemicals. Fish die, the shallows reek, and the reader becomes enraged.
Conceived in 1969 by Robert Boyle, a hard-fighting environmentalist (and longtime SI writer), the official Riverkeepers organization didn't come into being for more than a decade because it lacked funds. A grassroots group that ferrets out illegal pollution and takes those responsible for it to court, Riverkeepers has been so successful that the sight of Cronin patrolling the Hudson in a little motorboat strikes fear into the captains of huge oil tankers that are illegally rinsing their cargo holds in the river.
Riverkeepers, with its core belief that natural resources are a public trust, has spawned 20 similar organizations from Casco Bay in Maine to San Francisco Bay; this book shows why a river's abundant life is worth fighting for.