Friends of the Kaw

Kansas Riverkeeper Honored as River Hero


Lawrence, KS -- (SBWIRE) -- 06/05/2014 -- Empowering communities throughout the Tijuana River Watershed, improving water quality in Maine’s Casco Bay, being a leading advocate for rivers in Kansas, giving back as a tireless volunteer river trail steward in Illinois, and developing national showcases of urban renewal in Rhode Island are just a few of the accomplishments of an extraordinary group of individuals who have dedicated themselves to protecting our most vital natural resource—water.

Since 2002, sixty-two individuals from around the U.S and world have been honored with this prestigious award.

Laura Calwell, Friends of the Kaw (KS) For over 20 years, Laura has worked tirelessly as both a volunteer and as Kansas Riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw to promote public awareness of the Kansas River, an outstanding natural resource and valuable drinking water source in the state of Kansas. Each year she paddles the entire 170 mile Kansas River to check on its health and condition. Laura has been instrumental in moving sand dredging operations out of the river, and led the effort to institute the Kansas River Inventory, the first comprehensive, publicly available inventory documenting the entire river system’s on-going conditions, structures, animal and plant life and recreational opportunities.

“I’m very honored to be recognized as a 2014 River Hero by River Network. I’m totally “in love” with the Kansas River, it’s many sand bars, tree lined banks and wildlife viewing opportunities. The Kaw is now a Nation Water Trail and has over twenty access points so Kansans can enjoy an awesome paddling experience in their own back yard.”

The four other exceptional 2014 River Heroes are:

Margarita Diaz, Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental A.C. (Mexico) Margarita has become the leading community advocate for water quality protection in the coastal community of Playas de Tijuana and throughout Baja California. Over the past 13 years she has mobilized more than 35,000 volunteers, fostering “awareness through action”; coordinated the removal of nearly 200 cubic tons of trash; trained over 400 youth leaders as “coastal stewards”; and become a guiding citizen in coordinating efforts to protect not just the region’s beaches, but all streams, creeks and waterways in the Tijuana River Watershed.

Joe Payne, Casco Baykeeper/Friends of Casco Bay (ME) Joe is one of the first seven Waterkeepers and a founder of Waterkeeper Alliance. For more than 20 years, Joe has been the eyes, ears and voice of Casco Bay, working to protect the environmental health of Maine’s premier bay. He has built an impressive and sustainable operation with outstanding water quality monitoring programs and science-based advocacy, helping to get the bay declared a federally-designated “no discharge area”. Joe even led the charge to relocate 35,000 lobsters to save them during dredging in the Portland harbor.

Michael Taylor, Illinois Water Trailkeeper (IL) The Little Calumet River runs through the south side of Chicago and its southern suburbs. As a volunteer trail steward and promoter of paddling, Michael reaches thousands of people each year, getting them actively involved with cleanup and restoration projects, expanding water trail access and training volunteers. He is helping local high students learn how to kayak, and at a recent cleanup made sure every kid who attended had a canoe or kayak for the event – an opportunity most would never experience if it weren’t for Michael’s tireless efforts. All of this happens when he is not at his regular full-time job.

Jane Sherman, Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (RI) Jane founded the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council in 1998 to expand river revitalization initiatives to the entire river system, and involve every community. Her vision and hard work have completely altered the quality of life in one of the most economically challenged communities in Rhode Island. Among many accomplishments, she led the charge to convert a 12-acre dilapidated textile mill complex into Riverside Park, now one of the most vibrant, active parks in the city, and helped leverage funding to create the Woonasquatucket River Greenway, a $12 million project that is a national showcase of urban renewal.

“We couldn't be more impressed than we are by the important work these individuals and their organizations are doing to make a meaningful impact on water resources around the nation”, said Nicole Silk, River Network President. “Their dedication to - and love of rivers and water- is what inspires us all.”

In addition, each year River Network celebrates one individual’s accomplishments with the James R. Compton River Achievement Award. This year’s honoree is Rebecca Wodder (Washington, DC). Rebecca is a nationally known environmental leader who has devoted her career to conservation causes, beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970, and as a Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI) on environmental and energy issues. Most recently she served at the U.S. Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to Secretary Ken Salazar, advancing river and watershed objectives. Rebecca was nominated by President Obama for the post of Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. She previously served as President of American Rivers from 1995-2011.

River Network hosted the 2014 River Heroes Award winners at a banquet during this year’s River Rally conference in Pittsburgh, PA May 30-June 2.

For details about the River Hero program, visit Nominations are now open for 2015 River Heroes.

About River Network
River Network is empowering a national watershed protection movement that includes more than 2,000 local, state and regional grassroots organizations whose primary mission is to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain the health of our country. For twenty-five years, River Network has worked closely with watershed protection groups from coast to coast – building the capacity of state and local organizations, assisting people grappling with water and environmental health problems, protecting habitat for fish and wildlife, developing blue cities and reducing our country’s use of water and energy. Visit us online at or on Facebook.

About Friends of the Kaw
Friends of the Kaw is a grassroots, non-profit, conservation organization whose mission is to protect and preserve the Kansas (Kaw) River for present and future generations. Friends of the Kaw sponsors the Kansas Riverkeeper, a non-governmental advocate working as the eyes, ears and voice of the Kansas River. Our goals are to fight pollution and in-river sand dredging, increase public river access, and educate the public and government stakeholders on water quality issues. Visit us online at

Media Contacts:
Laura Calwell, Friends of the Kaw; (785) 312 7200

Matt Burke, River Network; (503) 784-0977