Our Approach

Photo credit: Robin Kent

We are different. 

Other environmental organizations do clean ups – we do. Other environmental organizations lobby lawmakers and regulators – we do. Other environmental organizations hold public events celebrating successes or calling the public to action – we do.

But we are alone in this region in actively suing polluters to redress the harm they cause. That is first and foremost how we are different.

Supporting that willingness to enforce the laws we have available is also a key difference – namely, that we investigate and assess on the basis of science and evidence. And in this day of advancing technology, we are the only group to use drone technology to gather evidence, in addition to the sampling and testing of water at your near point sources of pollution.

In the Shenandoah Valley, we gather evidence of cattle in the waterways fouling them with their excrement and we used the evidence to obtain passage of legislation to require fencing to exclude that access – and we sought, successfully, to provide funding for the farmers to erect the fencing.

Also in the Valley, we are using advanced technology to assess the toxicity of algae in the river and tributaries. One of our volunteer scientists has in fact discovered additional algal species previously unknown to regulators.

In the Upper Potomac, we take on acid mine drainage whose sources are both legacy and continuing. Our efforts have resulted in the installation of state-of-the art filtration systems at operating mines and we continue to test for acid drainage at other locations in the watershed to develop data for sharing with regulators as the basis to insist on action.

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper is also a leading advocate for greater investigation and resolution of the issue of PFAS – toxic legacy chemicals – about whose prevalence we still know too little. But we have already had success in the passage of legislation in Maryland to limit the sale of products containing PFAS and we are importantly conducting research into the presence of the chemical in freshwater fish.

In the Lower Potomac, our sampling of drinking wells demonstrated the presence of toxicity from harmful coal ash. Through a coordinated effort by like-minded organizations, the public, and lawmakers, we successfully obtained legislation in Virginia to remove or recycle the millions of tons of the deadly substance.

Potomac Riverkeeper, along with scores of volunteers, trained to collect and test water samples, we are publishing weekly water quality results from May through September at 29 sites along the Potomac and we also publish an annual report of our findings. The samples are tested aboard the Sea Dog, our floating laboratory, which has the highest level of certification so that the results can be adopted by regulators for action and they provide a basis for our campaign to make the Potomac swimmable again.