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Waterkeeper Alliance stops water pollution

It gets help from the Celebrity Ski Fest each year

A Riverkeeper's boat patrols the Hudson River. The Waterkeeper Alliance’s roots trace back to the Hudson River when a group of local fishermen banded together in 1966 to protect the river from pollution.
Courtesy of Leah Rae

Marc Yaggi was shocked when he visited Hann Bay in Senegal in the early 2000s.

He said the beautiful inlet and fishing destination had become the dumping ground for all kinds of waste, from sewage to a meat processing plant’s brown discharge.

Yaggi — the executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, the nonprofit at the center of Deer Valley’s Celebrity Ski Fest fundraiser — was at a loss for words when a Senegalese man asked how Yaggi could help him protect the bay.

“It was the most polluted place I had been,” said Yaggi, who has dedicated his career to environmental advocacy.

Yaggi didn’t know if Waterkeeper Alliance had enough resources to help Hann Bay. Nonetheless, the man who approached Yaggi, named Mbacke, was determined to adopt the alliance’s model that protects more than 300 waters across the globe.

Mbacke learned English and started attending the nonprofit’s conventions. Like other “waterkeepers” that are part of the alliance, he developed a team to track down polluters, monitor water and advocate.

Yaggi said Mbacke’s efforts paid off when he convinced his government, the French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank to spend $68 million to clean up Hann Bay.

“The very next year they inspired more waterkeepers to start in West Africa,” Yaggi said.
“Hann Baykeeper, by working with partners, has also been successful in helping suspend the construction of two coal-fired plants in the bay.”

A nonprofit that has waterkeepers in 34 countries, the Waterkeeper Alliance has helped environmental advocates such as Mbacke protect a combined 2.5 million square miles of watersheds.

Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort, said the resort is proud to help fund a global-impact group with this weekend’s Celebrity Ski Fest, which will welcome a group of famous people, from movie stars to Olympic athletes.

“They are adamant about their mission, but they accomplish their mission within the law,” Wheaton said about the alliance. “I think that’s admirable, because there are times when there is a lot of emotion on both sides of an issue.”

Co-founded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance’s roots trace back to when a group of local fishermen banded together in 1966 to save the heavily polluted Hudson River.

“Because of their citizen action, the river has been reborn,” Yaggi said. “Now it’s a global icon of ecosystem revitalization, giving people hope all over the world.”

In 1983, the fishermen founded the Hudson Riverkeeper and inspired other waterkeepers to pop up in places such as the Long Island Sound, the San Francisco Bay and the Delaware River.

“They (the waterkeepers) all learned from each other and shared ideas,” Yaggi said. “They decided to create a Waterkeeper Alliance to be at the hub of the wheel to keep those advocates connected to each other, giving them access to resources to engage in efforts that will help tie their local efforts into a coordinated global effort.”

The nonprofit alliance was incorporated in 1999, and has been the recipient of funds raised from the Celebrity Skifest for 10 years.

Yaggi — who, along with Kennedy, will be at this weekend’s event — said he is excited to visit a state with two waterkeepers.

“We have two waterkeepers currently in Utah,” Yaggi said. “One is our Colorado Riverkeeper in Moab. We also have a waterkeeper affiliate on the Green River.

“We also are in active discussions with other organizations interested in starting waterkeepers in Utah,” he said.

Yaggi said the Skifest, which has raised a total of $5 million for the alliance, helps waterkeepers in Utah and all over the globe.

He said help the nonprofit gets from the event extends past the fundraiser, since the Skifest helps the alliance spread the word about its cause, which is “to strengthen and grow a network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water.”

Wheaton said the Waterkeeper Alliance’s environmental advocacy is something Deer Valley holds close to its heart.

“Deer Valley Resort is very environmentally focused and also focused on results,” Wheaton said.

The resort president said people there are constantly looking for ways to conserve water through testing and the resort’s snowmaking process.

“Our constant reinvestment in snowmaking is so we can be as absolutely efficient as we can in making snow to make more cubic feet of snow per kilowatt or per gallon of water,” he added.

Wheaton and Yaggi feel the resort’s environmental advocacy connection with the nonprofit is part of why the Skifest is successful in earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

“The work the alliance does is helping to raise the importance of climate change and to spur action on climate change,” Yaggi said. “These are things that are going to help preserve the future of the ski industry. I think Deer Valley is at the vanguard on those issues.”

The 25th Celebrity Skifest will be part of Deer Valley Resort’s opening this weekend. Fundraising events part of the Skifest include a celebrity poker tournament from 6-11:30 p.m. on Friday at Deer Valley Resort. There will also be an auction and concert by country singer Dierks Bentley that starts at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday at the DeJoria Center in Kamas. Visit http://www.dvskifest.com for details.


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