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“The current method of regulation [of water levels on the River] is antiquated, . . .

June 30th, 2016 | Posted by Lee

Macfarlane Image 2

A great read on why we need to support #Plan2014Now.

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“The current method of regulation [of water levels on the River] is antiquated, recognized [by American Rivers] by the designation in April 2016 of the St. Lawrence as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. The history of trying to regulate the St. Lawrence River shows that there is an underlying conceptual flaw in the notion that we should control the hydrological regimes on rivers and lakes. Plan 2014 is a major step in the right direction.”


Daniel MacFarlane, a speaker at our 2016 Winter Environmental Conference, in a guest blog on the American Rivers website.


More information at: http://plan2014now.savetheriver.org/

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Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Executive Director named Freshwater Hero and Citizen Advocate of the Year

March 30th, 2016 | Posted by Lee
Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Executive Director Recognized as Freshwater Hero and Citizen Advocate of the Year
Freshwater Future has added Lee Willbanks to its 2016 list of Freshwater Heroes and honored him with the distinction of Citizen Advocate of the Year.
Based in Michigan, the Freshwater Future has a singular and vitally important mission: to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region.
This month the organization issued its list of Freshwater Heroes. The list includes extraordinary groups and individuals who have gone above and beyond to protect what they hold dear—our waters.
In naming him Citizen Advocate of the Year, Freshwater Heroes said the following about Lee: “From on-the-water monitoring and restoration efforts, to educating the next generation of river champions, to his persistent and passionate advocacy on complex policy issues like aquatic invasive species and regulation of water levels, you can trust that Lee is there, standing up for the St. Lawrence, each and every day.”
For more: http://ow.ly/1067E4

Freshwater Future has added Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River’s Executive Director, to its 2016 list of Freshwater Heroes and honored him with the distinction of Citizen Advocate of the Year.

Based in Michigan, Freshwater Future has a singular and vitally important mission: to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region.

This month the organization issued its list of Freshwater Heroes. The list includes extraordinary groups and individuals who have gone above and beyond to protect what they hold dear—our waters.

In naming him Citizen Advocate of the Year, Freshwater Heroes said the following about Lee: “From on-the-water monitoring and restoration efforts, to educating the next generation of river champions, to his persistent and passionate advocacy on complex policy issues like aquatic invasive species and regulation of water levels, you can trust that Lee is there, standing up for the St. Lawrence, each and every day.”

2016 Freshwater Future Freshwater Hero Award
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Save The River’s 27th Winter Environmental Conference Agenda

February 5th, 2016 | Posted by Lee

There’s still time to register for the conference. For more information call Save The River at 315-686-2010 or click here.

2016 WEC Agenda

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“Meet the upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper; Save The River prepares to host annual conference”

February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by admin

Great coverage by North Country Public Radio of our upcoming Winter Environmental Conference

“The upper St. Lawrence River’s largest environmental group holds its annual winter conference this weekend.

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik will be one of the speakers at Save The River’s conference this Saturday at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton.”

Tony Maas, Principal of Maas Strategies, is a nationally recognized water policy expert in Canada. He will be providing an update on Canadian environmental policy and Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act.

With the potential for New York State voters to vote for a constitutional convention in 2017, van Rossum will speak about the need for constitutional guarantees for clean water and air in the New York State constitution.

“Speakers will also tackle topics that kept Save The River busy in 2015, including passing a new, more environmentally-friendly water levels management plan for the river, and opposing Montreal’s dumping of raw sewage into the river last fall.”

Visit NCPR’s website for the full story:http://ow.ly/XTDaK

There’s still time to register for the conference. For more information call Save The River at 315-686-2010 or visit: http://ow.ly/WUDZF

WEC Speakers Panel Image

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Thousand Islands ranked No. 1 on list of nation’s archipelagos

January 27th, 2016 | Posted by Lee

From today’s Watertown Daily Times editorial page, “Promoting the Thousand Islands as a wonderful tourist destination recently became a little easier. . . By focusing on water quality and watershed issues, members of Save the River do their part to attract visitors.” It is worth a full read.

With a super shout out to Save The River, the editorial correctly mentions our members. They are full-time and seasonal residents, boaters, kayakers, swimmers, anglers, divers, birders, hunters, scientists, artists, teachers, students of all ages, public figures, business owners, Canadian and American. And they are members because they believe in our mission to protect and preserve the St. Lawrence River.

Even so, we are not in this alone, and the River region (and Save The River) is blessed to have a tremendous number of groups and agencies all working to keep the land and water clean and sustaining for generations. A partial list of those we partner with: Waterkeeper AllianceThousand Islands Land TrustIndian River Lakes ConservancyMinna Anthony Common Nature Center – FriendsNew York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic PreservationIJC – International Joint CommissionAudubon New YorkDucks UnlimitedLake Ontario WaterkeeperWWF-CanadaSUNY-ESFAlgonquin to Adirondacks CollaborativeClarkson UniversityHealing Our Waters – Great Lakes CoalitionAntique Boat MuseumThe Nature Conservancy in New YorkWilson Hill Wildlife Management AreaSt. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental SciencesAlliance for the Great LakesThousand Islands Tourism CouncilAquatarium, and so many others.

We all have a place on the River and we all have a role in using it sustainably, and ensuring it is swimmable, drinkable and fishable to seven generations.

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Dr. Daniel Macfarlane, environmental historian, to speak on Plan 2014 at Winter Environmental Conference

January 21st, 2016 | Posted by admin

Macfarlane- Sustainability Studies_150_0Dr. Daniel Macfarlane, Assistant Professor of Freshwater Policy at Western Michigan University, will speak at Save The River’s Winter Environmental Conference about Plan 2014, the long anticipated, but currently stalled, modern water levels management plan, proposed by the International Joint Commission in June 2014.

In a well-received editorial published last September in the Standard-Freeholder, a Cornwall, Ontario newspaper, Dr. Macfarlane wrote, “Since the IJC can’t unilaterally implement its Plan 2014 recommendation, it is up to the Canadian and American governments to decide what to do. They must adopt it. The current method of regulation is an anachronism. Plan 2014 is just a step in the right direction.”

Save The River is pleased to have Dr. Macfarlane share his perspective on the need for a modern water levels plan for the River. His extensive knowledge of the history of the Seaway and dams that have caused ecological damage to wetland habitat and declines in key species will be very helpful as we approach the second anniversary of the referral of Plan 2014 – a plan that will begin to reverse that damage.

Dr. Macfarlane is an environmental historian and policy scholar specializing in border waters in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin, and is author of the award-winning 2014 book “Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway” which was based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Ottawa and explores, among other aspects, the ecological impact of building the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. He is currently writing a book on the history of engineering Niagara Falls, researching the history of Great Lakes water levels, co-editing a book on US-Canadian border waters, and working on the history of the International Joint Commission.

Other speakers at Save The River’s conference include Congresswoman Stefanik who will update attendees on her work to address issues of importance to the St. Lawrence River. Other speakers will address Montreal’s sewage dump this past fall, possible transport of crude oil on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, plastic pollution in our waterways, and the need for constitutional guarantees for clean water and air in the New York State constitution.

Save The River’s Winter Environmental Conference is open to the public. Registration is $50 and includes coffee, lunch and a cocktail reception with light hor d’oevres.  Anyone interested in attending can RSVP by Friday, January 29th by calling (315) 686-2010 or by downloading and submitting the registration form.

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Congresswoman Elise Stefanik to speak at Save The River’s Winter Environmental Conference

January 20th, 2016 | Posted by admin

Stefanik Official PortraitSave The River announced Congresswoman Elise Stefanik will speak at its upcoming Winter Environmental Conference, Saturday, February 6th. Ms. Stefanik, whose district covers the entire length of the St. Lawrence River in the U.S., will update attendees on her work to address issues of importance to the St. Lawrence River and those in and out of her district who are connected to the River.

Congresswoman Stefanik has been a vocal supporter of Plan 2014, the modern water levels plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, and a co-sponsor of the recently enacted law banning microbeads in consumer products. She also recently convened a cross-boundary roundtable on dealing with the threat from invasive species and has met with Save The River to discuss a range of issues related to the threats and opportunities facing the River.

“I am very excited to speak at Save the River’s Winter Conference,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Save the River is the leading voice protecting the St. Lawrence River, and together we have already successfully worked to protect this important body of water from plastic microbead pollution. We have much more left to accomplish, and I look forward to speaking with Save the River activists about important initiatives, including Plan 2014 and my work in Congress to combat the epidemic of invasive species in our waters.”

Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River executive director stated, “We are very pleased to have our Congresswoman speak to attendees at our 27th conference. Rep. Stefanik has, in a very short time, become a knowledgeable and thoughtful supporter of policies that are important to the health of the St. Lawrence River and the communities that rely on it. Speaking to this very informed and engaged audience will be an excellent way to continue the very productive dialogue she has with the River community.”

Ms. Stefanik was first elected to Congress in 2014 and is a Member of the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. She was elected by her freshman peers in the 114th Congress to serve as the freshman representative to the Policy Committee. In the fall she joined with several of her colleagues backing a resolution acknowledging climate change as a threat that should be combated.

Other speakers at Save The River’s conference will address the International Joint Commission’s Plan 2014 to reverse the harm caused by the current water levels plan for the River, Montreal’s sewage dump this past fall, possible transport of crude oil on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, plastic pollution in our waterways, and the need for constitutional guarantees for clean water and air in the New York State constitution.

Save The River’s Winter Environmental Conference is open to the public. Registration is $50 and includes coffee, lunch and a cocktail reception with light hor d’oevres.  Anyone interested in attending can RSVP by Friday, January 29th by calling (315) 686-2010 or by downloading and submitting the registration form.

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Save The River Honors Its Exceptional Volunteers

August 7th, 2015 | Posted by Lee
Thursday night we held our annual Volunteer Appreciation Party at the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority’s Rift Camp to honor our cadre of over 500 volunteers.
While each and every one of our volunteers is a valuable member of our team and key to our many successes, each year Save The River does recognize a ‘Volunteer of the Year’, volunteers who have consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteer work and whose assistance has advanced Save The River’s efforts to protect the St. Lawrence River in a significant way.
This year’s Save The River Volunteer of the Year is The Thousand Island High School’s SAFE (Student Activists for the Environment) Club members and their faculty advisor. These dedicated students – Ashley Byers, Lexi Cassidy, Noah Crandal, John Hunter, McKenna Schnauber and Maura Warren and their advisor, Eleanor Thomas, were chosen in recognition of the club’s outstanding efforts in addressing and raising awareness to their school, their community and New York State’s elected leaders about the threat of microbead pollution in the St. Lawrence River.
This year SAFE set high goals for itself and succeeded in achieving them. They brought awareness of the threat of microbead pollution to the River by conducting a school-wide campaign; creating informative posters, creating a social media campaign using the hashtag “TIBeatsBeads” circulating a student petition.  They also wrote several letters to elected officials expressing their strong support for legislation in the New York State Senate, the Microbead-Free Waters Act, and they traveled to Albany May 5th where they participated with representatives of numerous groups from across New York in the Microbead Lobby Day meeting with several elected officials, including New York State Senator Patty Ritchie.
With a summer staff that swells to only 7, including our 2 interns, we simply could not accomplish our many programmatic, educational and advocacy goals without the active support of our many volunteers.
Some of the notable statistics about our volunteers, they:
– accumulated an estimated 2,000 hours of service;
– came from as far as Lisbon, New York and Ottawa, Ontario;
– over 240 who trained to become Riverkeeper volunteers
– over 30 teachers from area schools who educated more than 1,000 students this year alone (over 3,000 over the life of the In the Schools program);
– mark over 80 of the most dangerous shoals on the River;
– collect water samples at 6 of the region’s most popular swimming locations;
– assist with the Common Tern Monitoring collaboration with the
Thousand Islands Land Trust;
– help with Winter Conference, Rock for the River and Run for the
River; and
– work behind the scenes at the office working on countless mailings and projects.

IMG_0443

Thursday night we held our annual Volunteer Appreciation Party at the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority’s Rift Camp to honor our cadre of over 500 volunteers.

While each and every one of our volunteers is a valuable member of our team and key to our many successes, each year Save The River does recognize a ‘Volunteer of the Year’, volunteers who have consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteer work and whose assistance has advanced Save The River’s efforts to protect the St. Lawrence River in a significant way.

This year’s Save The River Volunteer of the Year is The Thousand Island High School’s SAFE (Student Activists for the Environment) Club members and their facultyadvisor. These dedicated students – Ashley Byers, Lexi Cassidy, Noah Crandal, John Hunter, McKenna Schnauberand Maura Warren and their advisor, Eleanor Thomas, were chosen in recognition of the club’s outstanding efforts in addressing and raising awareness to their school, their community and New York State’s elected leaders about the threat of microbead pollution in the St. Lawrence River.

This year SAFE set high goals for itself and succeeded in achieving them. They brought awareness of the threat of microbead pollution to the River by conducting a school-wide campaign; creating informative posters, creating a social media campaign using the hashtag “TIBeatsBeads” circulating a student petition.  They also wrote several letters to elected officials expressing their strong support for legislation in the New York State Senate, the Microbead-Free Waters Act, and they traveled to Albany May 5th where they participated with representatives of numerous groups from across New York in the Microbead Lobby Day meeting with several elected officials, including New York State Senator Patty Ritchie.

With a summer staff that swells to only 7, including our 2 interns, we simply could not accomplish our many programmatic, educational and advocacy goals without the active support of our many volunteers.

Some of the notable statistics about our volunteers, they:
– accumulated an estimated 2,000 hours of service;
– came from as far as Lisbon, New York and Ottawa, Ontario;
– over 240 who trained to become Riverkeeper volunteers
– over 30 teachers from area schools who educated more than 1,000 students this year alone (over 3,000 over the life of the In the Schools program);
– mark over 80 of the most dangerous shoals on the River;
– collect water samples at 6 of the region’s most popular swimming locations;
– assist with the Common Tern Monitoring collaboration with the
Thousand Islands Land Trust;
– help with Winter Conference, Rock for the River and Run for the
River; and
– work behind the scenes at the office working on countless mailings and projects.

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Save The River’s Winter Conference Draws Record Attendance

February 12th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

Topics Discussed Ranged from Emerging Threats to Ongoing Opportunities

[Clayton]-Save The River hosted its 26th annual Winter Environmental Conference Saturday, February 7th at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel. A record 170 community members including elected officials, researchers, year-round and part-time residents and others interested in the health of the River from the US and Canada came together to hear about the threat of oil shipments, the status of Plan 2014, efforts to restore the American Eel and Save The River’s educational programs among several other topics.

Board president, William Grater, opened the event welcoming the record audience to the conference which he described a having a little bit of everything for the River-loving public from science, to advocacy, art to adventure. Executive director and Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper, Lee Willbanks, followed highlighting a theme he returned to throughout the conference of “engagement, partnership and collaboration”.

“Save The River must engage on a wide range of issues because the St. Lawrence River is not an isolated waterbody, it is part of the largest freshwater system on earth”, said Mr. Willbanks. “In order for us to be effective we have formed partnerships with other organizations concerned with protecting freshwater. We are fortunate to be collaborating with agencies, and other not-for-profits and individuals throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region to deliver a strong message for swimmable, fishable, drinkable water.”

As clear evidence of that engagement, partnership and collaboration, and new to the conference were many displays and information tables from organizations and businesses Save The River works with or is sponsored by. The space outside the main conference room was filled with displays from area land trusts, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the International Joint Commission, A2A Collaborative and highlighting Save The River programs, among others.

The conference started with a panel discussion focused on the implications of transporting crude oil on and near the St. Lawrence River. Speaking first was Kushan Dave, graduate student at Cornell University, who presented on the risks and impacts of different modes of oil transport in the Great Lakes Region. Council of Canadians National Water Campaigner, Emma Lui presented on the risks of tar sands tankers and extreme energy in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

TJ Mangoni, District Response Advisory Team Supervisor for the Ninth Coast Guard District walked the attendees through an update on how the Coast Guard is planning and preparing for the potential risks associated with the transport of toxic cargoes like tar sands. Rounding out the panel was Gary McCullouch, spill engineer for Region 6 of the NYS DEC, who spoke about effective responses to an oil spill, stressing that speed is necessary for spill response to be successful. He also shared that the River’s experience with the Nepco spill in 1976 and other recent spills has highlighted the need for a greater focus on safety, cooperation and strategies for a comprehensive clean up in the event of a spill.

From the questions poised by the audience, it is clear there is a great concern for the safety of the River if tar sands are shipped on it and that there is a need for much more information and dialogue.

Following the discussion of tar sands oil shipments were aerial photographs taken by artists Alex MacLean and Louis Helbig of the areas in Alberta where the oil is being extracted. Both MacLean and Helbig also highlighted the need for a much broader discussion of the risks and rewards of developing extreme energy.

U.S. Commissioner Dereth Glance with the International Joint Commission updated attendees on the range of activities the IJC is engaged in to protect freshwater along the US and Canadian border. Commissioner Glance also spoke about the status of Plan 2014 and the continuing negative consequences to the Lake and River if Plan 2014 is not implemented. Responding to audience questions, both she and Willbanks stressed the need for members of the public to communicate their support for Plan 2014 to their elected and appointed officials.

Jen Nalbone, environmental scientist in the Buffalo Office of the NYS Attorney General updated the conference on an issue Save The River introduced at its last conference, microbeads. Research continues to show very high concentrations of microbeads in the St. Lawrence River. There is also research indicating this plastic pollution attracts and accumulates toxins from the water that can then be transferred to fish and potentially humans. The Attorney General will again be introducing the “The Microbead-Free Waters Act” with the hope that the New York legislation will pass this most restrictive ban in the nation this year. Willbanks noted that Save The River is prepared to actively support the bill when it is introduced.

Rounding out the afternoon was a scientific and educational group of presenters, beginning with Matt Windle from the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences who introduced many in the audience to the amazing life cycle of the iconic and culturally significant American Eel. He highlighted their current endangered status and current efforts to aid in the recovery of the once thriving River fish.

STR WEC Crowd Photo

President Simon Fuller of the not-for-profit Bytown Brigantine, Inc. spoke about adventures offered aboard their tall ship the Fair Jeanne. Save The River has frequently offered its Riverkeeper Monitoring program on the Fair Jeanne, which is a training vessel for students to learn sailing techniques, cooperation and leadership skills and a love for the River.

Closing the day was a three-part presentation focused on Save The River’s very successful and popular In the Schools and On the Water programs and the experiences of Mary Bowman, one of the program teachers on the research ship, Lake Guardian on Lake Erie in 2014. Heather White updated the audience about the organizations self-published children’s book, Haas, The Great Blue Heron. And finally, Kathy Morris an educational consultant to Save The River closed the conference returning to the theme of engagement, partnership and collaboration as being key to the success of Save The River’s educational programs.

Photo Credit: Sarah Ellen Smith

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Can Alberta Sands oil be safely shipped on the St. Lawrence?

February 10th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

By Julia Botero                                                                                                                                         Published on February 10, 2015 by North Country Public Radio

Crude oil from the Midwest is moved by pipeline and rail across the United States and through parts of New York’s North Country. Some companies are interested in shipping oil to East Coast refineries by way of the St. Lawrence River.

At a conference organized last weekend by the Thousand Islands-based group, Save the River, environmentalists voiced concern over the potential of a catastrophic oil spill.

The St. Lawrence River is frozen solid right now, but when spring arrives tankers will begin their slow journey up and down the waterway. The tankers carry huge amounts of heavy raw materials like grain, iron, and coal to ports in the United States and Canada. Only a few shipments of crude oil from Alberta Sands in Canada and the Bakken in North Dakota have come through the seaway, but environmentalists and state official are concerned more will come. Lee Willbanks, director of Save the River said, “This is a huge issue because there is a lot of oil in different forms being extracted in the Midwest in our country and in Alberta Canada. And right now there is more oil coming out of the ground then has a conduit to a refinery.”

Gary McCullough, with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said, “Fundamentally my concern is that spills on the St. Lawrence River would be extremely challenging to clean up.” Mcllouch said that is because the river’s current is really strong. “The oil will move on the water faster than we have the ability to contain it. If you lost a large amount of oil on Alexandria Bay, that oil has already transversed to Massena.”

McCullough mentioned the Nepco spill of 1976. A massive barge carrying thick motor oil ran aground and spilled 500,000 gallons. “You can still see oil strips on rocks up in Ogdensburg, Lisbon area,” he said.

McCullough said much of that oil floated. The oil from the Tar Sands, on the other hand, is much heavier and may not float. Oil that sinks causes more damage because it is almost impossible to completely remove from a river floor. Emma Lui, with the Council of Canadians, said the company Suncor has already shipped Alberta Tar Sands oil along the River this past fall. Lui said, “The shipments that happen with Suncor really set a precedent for other shipments to happen.”

Lui said her organization released a study that found the cost to clean up just 10 percent of the oil from a Suncor tanker would be more than the Canadian government can afford. “We are not prepared nationally and locally — the mayors in the communities aren’t prepared either and if we aren’t prepared we should be doing this.“

Lee Willbanks said talking about the worst case scenarios when it comes to shipping oil can, at the very least, make those in charge think before they act. “It is really shame on us if we as a community don’t demand this discussion and have it in every level of government before we ship this,” he said.

The current low price of oil means shippers aren’t moving much, but that could change by the time the seaway reopens for navigation in March.

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