Image by Fred Tutman used with permission. Fred Tutman is the Patuxent Riverkeeper, one of a global network of 343 people who advocate for individual rivers. He’s also the nation’s only African-American Riverkeeper.

Locally, there’s a Potomac Riverkeeper and an Anacostia Riverkeeper; there are Riverkeepers (or, for non-rivers, other Waterkeepers) from Argentina to Vietnam .

Born and raised along the Patuxent in Maryland, as with seven generations before him, Tutman founded the Patuxent Riverkeeper organization in 2004. Having spent 27 years in media, television, and radio, along with a stint as a late-life law student, Tutman traded in his law books and reporting expertise to protect his home river.

I spoke with Tutman to learn more about his work and to get his perspective on the most pressing environmental and equity issues facing our regional rivers.

Can you tell our readers what a Riverkeeper is?

A Riverkeeper is an advocate who has a license. It’s a capital letter first of all. It’s a proper noun. We’re Advocates. We are expected to protect water quality and build a movement around the protection of water quality on the exclusive jurisdiction that we’re licensed for.

In my case, that’s the Patuxent River. It’s a geopolitically significant river in the state of Maryland. Citizens along the Patuxent were literally suing before the Clean Water Act was enacted. In fact, the origins of the Save the Bay movement are entirely from the impetus or the example set by Patuxent advocates.

Why did you became a Riverkeeper?

I worked in media television and radio for 27 years. I lived overseas and in Massachusetts for a while, but the Patuxent’s my home river. So as a citizen activist it never occurred to me you could make a career out of protecting a river until I learned about the Riverkeeper movement. That really brought onto my radar screen that you could be a gadfly or an irritant as a citizen activist and actually make a living doing that.At the time [in 2002] I was in law school. I was the late life law student. I hadn’t decided what to do with […]

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