October 30, 2017

A Quarterly Publication of Rivers Alive

Make your Cleanup Count!

We are in the midst of Georgia's waterway cleanup season and are glad to see your numbers coming in! This year we have already cleaned up over 50,500 lbs. of debris and 500 miles of our rivers, lakes, coast, and other waterways through only 104 events! We have over 300 events planned, so we are looking forward to seeing this number grow!
The Ocean Conservancy uses our tallies from September and October for their International Coastal Cleanup and publishes a report on trash collected around the world during these months. Georgia ranked fourth among U.S. states in pounds of trash collected last year in the International Coastal Cleanup 2017 Report, coming behind Virginia by less than 20,000 pounds. October isn't over yet, so let's get out there and show that we love our Georgia waterways! In order for your numbers to count, though, please submit your numbers soon!

To submit your final tallies, log into your account and select the "Manage Your Event" tab to navigate to your Rivers Alive events. Click on your event to pull up the pop-up window and then select the "Final Tally for your Event" tab. Enter your information, select the next tab to attach any photos, and click "Save this Event" at the top of the window! Use your data sheets and/or best estimates if necessary to submit your final tallies and be sure you have also checked any categories describing your event on the "Before You Begin" tab. This allows you to be considered for a 2017 Rivers Alive award and recognized at our annual ceremony this spring!

We also want your feedback on our new website! We launched our new website in March, but have and will continue to make updates. Please continue to send any database questions or concerns to using screenshots and detailed descriptions, but we would also appreciate your feedback using the following survey

In addition to removing trash, these cleanups help engage and educate citizens across the state about water quality issues. Reporting your collected trash allows us to quantify your impressive efforts and develop a better picture of the overall condition of our waterways. Thank you for your help and hard work!

Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about registering your cleanup or submitting data. You can reach us at or (404) 651-8513.

I Love Georgia (Waterways)!

This year's design features a few of our favorite waterways, from the Atlantic to the Armuchee. Whether you enjoy gliding in your canoe above the sharp rocks of the Flint River, hunting deer along Ichawaynochaway, sitting in the shade on the banks of the Chattahoochee, or something else about our waterways, we appreciate your help.  When we take care of our rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, and ocean, not only do we benefit, but so do other species and future generations. Thank you for your service and stewardship!

If you have any additional shirts from your cleanup, please return them to the Rivers Alive state office so we can distribute them to other cleanup organizers. We will also use any leftover organizer or volunteer tally sheets, trash bags, bookmarks, or posters from your cleanups. Our address is 2 MLK Jr. Dr. SE, Suite 1462 East, Atlanta, GA 30334.

An Interview with Joe Cook

Rivers Alive:
First, I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with our readers. I’d like to start with a question about your days as a newspaper photographer. Did you study journalism in school and how did that eventually translate into your work as a Riverkeeper?


In the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked at the Rome News-Tribune and Cherokee Citizen newspaper as a reporter and photographer. This is fun work because you are telling people’s stories. Many of these stories are about individuals or groups or communities that are getting shortchanged or shirked in some manner. These are the same stories we deal with as Riverkeepers. Most of the problems we respond to are issues involving someone upstream damaging the river for those downstream. Our work is about protecting the rights of people to use and enjoy their property and their rivers and streams. It’s really the same kind of advocacy work that newspapers should be doing—calling out wrongs and getting them corrected—whether it is neighbor on neighbor, business on community or government on citizens.

Rivers Alive:
I know you have written about and photographed your journeys on Georgia’s rivers with the intention of creating passion and awareness for our rivers. Can you talk a little bit about what those journeys have meant to you and your family?

My daughter and her mother and I completed a month-long, 160-mile journey down the Etowah River in 1992 when my daughter was three years-old. Since then she’s traveled well over 1,000 miles on various Georgia rivers through Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia. She’s seen the problems our rivers face and daily seen the problems that Riverkeepers fight to correct... 

Right now, she wants to study environmental engineering and help solve some of those problems. I think her life growing up on rivers has certainly helped influence her interests. But, mainly we have stored up a lot of great memories playing together on rivers.

Rivers Alive:
Paddle Georgia was one of my first experiences after becoming an environmental educator and quite frankly was a life changing experience for me. I know you have developed so many great relationships through this event and have put kids and adults on the river that had never been on one before. Can you touch on some of the people that stand out and the effect Paddle Georgia had on them?

Wow, there’s a lot. I think about CRBI board members like Chad Johnfroe and Barbara Lamb who are Paddle Georgia regulars; Bonny Putney who has made a name for herself as the “Trash Queen” organizing untold numbers of cleanups and serving on the Georgia River Network board; Mike McCarthy, another GRN board member, who moonlights as a DJ and is always donating his time and equipment to river causes; Evan Newman, a young man from Athens who got involved in water monitoring as a result of Paddle Georgia; James Watson from Gainesville whose first trip was as a boy in 2006 and he grew up to be a world class canoe sprint paddler; Tonya Bechtler from Newton County who is now leading the effort to create a paddling trail on the Yellow River. The list is really endless. People fall in love with rivers out there and they want to help protect them.

Rivers Alive:
On your website (Coosa River Basin Initiative) you provide a number of opportunities for people to contact their leaders in order to express their concerns for water protection in Georgia. Why is this so important and what are some ways that people can become more aware of what is happening in regards to our waterways?

Legislators and other elected officials are used to seeing the faces of “riverkeepers.” They expect to see us, but when they get a message from an ordinary constituent—especially when those messages number in the dozens and hundreds—they know they better pay attention to an issue. It makes a huge difference. And, when they get a call from someone in their Kiwanis Club or from their church or homeowners association, they pay attention. Otherwise, the issue never makes it on their radar and they are likely to vote with other legislators, sometimes without ever really fully understanding the debate. They’ve got a difficult job with so many issues to understand so it is our responsibility to educate them on the environmental issues that are important to us.

Signing up for is an easy way to stay abreast of legislative issues. You get e-mail action alerts on upcoming votes and can contact your state rep or senator with a click of the mouse. Georgia Water Coalition also sponsors Capital Conservation Day on Feb. 15. This is a great opportunity to come to the capital, learn about issues and actually talk to your legislators.

Rivers Alive:
Your organization is responsible for organizing a number of waterway cleanups each year that are responsible for the removal of tens of thousands of pounds of trash. Can you comment on the state of your rivers and the impact these cleanups have?

Unfortunately, the cleanups never eliminate all the trash. There’s always more coming down river because people are careless or simply don’t care. But, the cleanups do help participants understand the importance of putting litter in the trash and recycling what can be recycled. They spread the word and hopefully over time, we’ll have fewer and fewer people littering. Hopefully, the regular cleanups are part of a cultural shift that over many years will create truly tidy communities. As a society right now, we’re just trashy people.  I think the group of Rome Middle School students that participated in our last Rivers Alive cleanup won’t be throwing trash on the ground anymore.

Rivers Alive:
You are one of the more recognizable faces in the world of “Georgia Rivers”. Can you share a few words of wisdom with some of our younger readers that may be contemplating a career of science or environmental work?

Ugghh. Find what you love doing and do it. If we could all figure that out, we’d probably all be a lot more productive. If you like writing, practice it every day and find ways to write about environmental subjects that interest you. If you are interested in science, learn all you can. If you’re interested in nature, immerse yourself in it and read all you can about it. If you like making money, make tons of it and support organizations that you believe in. All of the riverkeepers come from different backgrounds—not all are environmental science majors—and the environmental advocacy world need lots of different skill sets to be successful.


We want to give a BIG Thank You to our sponsors for their help with this year's
Rivers Alive season!

The mission of Rivers Alive is to create awareness of and involvement in the preservation of Georgia's water resources. This would not be possible without the generous financial support of the corporate sponsors listed below. 

Major Corporate Sponsors


Enterprise Holdings Foundation     

Additional Support From

Jones Day | Kazmarek Mowrey Cloud Laseter LLP | Shaw Industries Group
Burns & McDonnell Foundation | Geosyntec | Dalton Utilities | Engineering303 LLC
Storm Water Systems | Georgia Association of Water Professionals | Alston & Bird LLP
Premier Industrial Services LLC | Eversheds Sutherland

If you would like to sponsor Rivers Alive,
please find more information on our Sponsorship page.

Rivers Alive is a program of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division Outreach Program.        (404) 463-1529

The preparation of this newsletter was financed in part through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under provisions of Section 319(h) of the Federal Clean Water Act of 1987, as amended.