Our Mission

Our mission is to protect the public’s right to clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries. We stop pollution to enhance the safety of our drinking water, protect healthy river habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment.

History of Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. was established in 2000 by principals of local environmental groups to fulfill a niche for a strong advocate to enforce clean water laws for the Potomac River and its tributaries. Riverkeepers are the eyes and ears of the water, protecting the public’s right to clean water in their rivers and streams. Encompassing the skills of scientists, teachers, law officers, fishermen and paddlers, Riverkeepers combine a profound knowledge of their waterway, matched with a relentless commitment to protecting your rights and the rule of law.

Ed Merrifield was hired in 2003 and served as President & Potomac Riverkeeper until the end of 2012. In 2006, Jeff Kelble was hired as the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, and in 2010, Brent Walls was hired as the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. In 2014, Jeff transitioned to be President & Riverkeeper. In 2015, Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. changed its name to Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Inc. (PRKN) and spilt the President & Riverkeeper title and committed to having three Riverkeepers: Upper Potomac, Shenandoah and Potomac. In addition, PRKN hired a Legal Director to oversee its expanding docket of legal actions.

The work of Potomac Riverkeeper Network spans the entire almost 15,000 square mile watershed which flows through four states (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia and into the Chesapeake Bay. The one exception is the Anacostia watershed, which has a separate Riverkeeper program. PRKN programs and activities benefit all 5.35 million residents of the Potomac watershed, 75% of whom live in the greater DC metropolitan area, by improving the quality of the water they drink, recreate on and in, and use in their daily lives.

The principal threats to water quality include nutrients, sediment, bacteria, toxics, and endocrine disruptors. The Potomac River supplies 25% of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay. Twenty-five percent of the Bay’s nutrient pollution and 34 percent of its sediment pollution come from the Potomac River. The frequent fish consumption advisories, annual fish kills, intersex fish, swimming prohibitions, and the impaired Chesapeake Bay demonstrate the need for a cleaner, healthier river. With a few notable exceptions, federal and state laws and regulations contain the tools needed to restore water quality. The problems are caused in large measure by failure to enforce the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws and regulations effectively and aggressively.

PRKN is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeepers Chesapeake. Riverkeeper is a registered trademark and service mark of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Inc. and is licensed for use herein. PRKN’s EIN # is 54-1982624. Financial statements can be provided upon request.

The Waterkeeper Movement

Potomac RIVERKEEPER® Network and its three Riverkeepers are members of WATERKEEPER® Alliance, the world’s fastest growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations and affiliates around the world and focusing citizen action on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. These Waterkeeper organizations are on the frontline of the global water crisis patrolling and protecting more than 1.5 million square miles of waterways on six continents.

The Waterkeeper movement’s mission and our mission is for swimmable, drinkable, fishable waterways worldwide. Our belief is that the best way to achieve this vision is through the Waterkeeper method of grassroots advocacy. Where waters and communities are protected by active Waterkeeper programs, Waterkeepers Alliance makes sure they never have to stand alone. Where waters lack protection, Waterkeepers advocate on their behalf, and for all communities whose right to healthy water is threatened.

Visit www.Waterkeeper.org for more information.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake MemberPotomac Riverkeeper Network and its three Riverkeepers are also members of WATERKEEPERS® Chesapeake, a coalition of nineteen independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. Waterkeepers Chesapeake amplifies the voices of each Waterkeeper and mobilizes these organizations to fight pollution and champion clean water. The members of Waterkeepers Chesapeake work locally, using grassroots action and advocacy to protect their communities and their waters. They work regionally to share resources and leverage individual organization strengths to expand each Waterkeeper’s capacity for on the water, citizen-based enforcement of environmental laws in the Chesapeake region.

Visit www.WaterkeepersChesapeake.org for more information.

Riverkeeper is a registered trademark and service mark of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Inc. and is licensed for use herein.

Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 is the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution. Its objective is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. It is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in coordination with state governments.

A key provision of the CWA that is at the core our work is the “citizen suit provision” that states that any citizen may file a lawsuit against any polluter who has allegedly violated the CWA. A membership organization, PRKN can file a lawsuit on the behalf of its members.

The Clean Water Act outlines how to protect rivers and other water bodies and focuses on three basic uses: swimming, fishing and drinking. These basic uses of our rivers are termed “Designated Uses” under the CWA and each use requires very different protections. Each Designated Use category has very specific water quality criteria that must be met to maintain that use. These criteria are then used to determine pollution limits for all facilities permitted to discharge waste. The CWA also established anti-degradation rules, which are a way to keep new or growing sources of pollution from spoiling a pristine steam.

The CWA introduced the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which is a permit system for regulating point sources of pollution – or pollution that comes out of a pipe. Congress exempted some water pollution sources from the point source definition, and are considered to be nonpoint sources. Agricultural stormwater discharges and irrigation return flows were specifically exempted from permit requirements.