Our Work in 2015

Dear Water Defenders,

As 2015 comes to an end, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight our accomplishments over the past year and share our ambitions for the year to come. It is my hope that by showcasing our work over the past year, you will be inspired to make a donation to Water Defense to support our work and vision for 2016.

Our Work in 2015

In 2015, Water Defense continued generating water quality data that is essential to informed public dialogue and responsible environmental stewardship. Our We Are There campaign focused on responding to large-scale environmental disasters. In May, the Refugio oil spill deposited 142,800 gallons of crude oil onto one of the most biologically diverse coastlines of the west coast. Our investigator, Scott Smith was on the ground three days later to fingerprint the oil contamination and conduct water quality testing in the surrounding area. In August, we were forced to respond to the Gold King Mine waste water spill into the Animas River. After identifying the Navajo Nation as a primary impacted stakeholder along the river, Water Defense immediately partnered with them to respond to this water contamination catastrophe. Water Defense has played a pivotal role by providing independent and reliable testing data that would otherwise be unavailable to these communities. We continue to provide support and testing services to the Navajo Nation and are planning a return trip in early 2016 to revisit our testing sites, take updated samples and empower local communities with the tools and expertise they need to protect themselves from future water contamination.

In addition to responding to disasters whenever and wherever they may occur, Water Defense has been addressing the less conspicuous forms of water contamination. Our investigation into the use of oil waste water on crops in California’s Central Valley landed us on the front page of the LA Times. Our data showed that the water being sold to farmers for crop irrigation was contaminated by the oil-extraction processes in which it had been used. This practice has unknown consequences on the crops and the health of consumers. Shortly after our investigation, the Central Valley water authority notified all oil producers of new, broader testing requirements that required companies to begin testing for a broad range of chemicals consistent with fracking. We recognize that because water is essential to life, we must also address the contamination inherent in lifeforms who come into contact with unsafe water. For this reason, Water Defense has begun testing of the crops themselves for contamination consistent with oil contamination.

Water Defense has been actively promoting the education and interest of the next generation of Water Defenders. Our student workshop at Cape Cod Academy was a great opportunity to connect with students about water contamination and testing. Three of those students were awarded a citizen-science internship at Water Defense and have been conducting water quality testing under the supervision of Scott Smith, our Chief Technology Officer and Investigator. This year I was honored to be chosen as the recipient of the Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Environmental Activism. Water Defense was excited to visit Dickinson and share our work with the student body. However, the highlight of our trip came from the students themselves. The individuals we met had a passion for environmental work, and their initiative is exemplary. We were impressed and inspired by the dedication exhibited by the student body. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Dickinson College and their ALLARM program, a group dedicated to empowering and informing through science education and community action.

We at Water Defense believe that fundamental and lasting change can only be accomplished by a broad-based coalition of citizens working together to re-shape our future. That is why we launched a new campaign called Hollywood United for a Healthy California. This initiative will leverage the considerable resources and leadership of actors, directors, producers and other entertainment professionals to counterbalance the influence that the oil industry has enjoyed for far too long. Hollywood is a historic and iconic industry that generates billions of dollars in revenue each year. By harnessing the power of the entertainment industry, Hollywood United will stand face-to-face with the oil industry, and for the first time: it will be on equal footing.

Internally, Water Defense has grown with the addition of new staff members, volunteers, and board members. Since joining our team in August, our Senior Science Advisor, Sarah Oktay, has been dedicating her time and expertise to providing us with scientific support which has proven invaluable.  Along with Sarah, our scientific team has benefited greatly from the support provided by Doug Fort and Judith Zelikoff, two of our most trusted and reliable advisors. Additionally, we hired a Program Director, Sam Wright, to coordinate our efforts, communicate our message, and pursue partnership and funding opportunities. This year also marked the end of John Pratt, our Co-Executive Director’s time as a staff member as he joins the Board of Directors. John has been instrumental in the birth and development of Water Defense and his contribution to the organization as a board member will continue to shape our future.

Going Forward

With the New Year comes new challenges and opportunities. Water Defense plans to meet both head-on by continuing our work generating water quality data, empowering groups and communities to identify and address contamination, and promoting informed public dialogue by making water data widely accessible.

Due to the continued reliance on fossil fuels, increasingly extreme forms of energy extraction, and legislative prioritization of “business as usual” policies at the expense of environmental integrity, water contamination disasters can and will continue to occur. Water Defense will be there, on the ground, responding to these disasters and providing the public and local communities with the data needed to address these issues pro-actively.

In the coming year, Water Defense will release a new product that will empower citizens to take water quality testing into their own hands and protect themselves. We are calling it the Waterbug, and along with the related technology, it was developed by Water Defense. This kit will include our own water sampling technology and materials, sampling protocols and information on getting the samples tested by an independent and credible laboratory. The Waterbug can be used by anyone and creates a previously unavailable pathway by which water quality data can be collected, analyzed, and disseminated. As water contamination becomes an increasingly problematic issue, the Waterbug will empower individuals and groups to address their own local water concerns.

Along with the Waterbug, Water Defense is currently at work on a new website that will update and increases the functionality of our current website. Our goal is to create an online platform that will serve as a national clearinghouse of water quality data. By publishing all of the data we have collected to date, as well as soliciting the participation of our partners and users of the Waterbug, we will create the most comprehensive independent source of water quality data available to the public. This data will inform and promote the public dialogue around water contamination. It represents the culmination of our belief embodied in our unofficial motto: “let the data lead the dialogue.”

We have big plans underway that will allow us to reach a larger audience, have a larger impact, and influence the future of our nation’s most precious and essential resource: clean water. I hope that you agree that our work over the past year, and in the year to come, is critical to the future of our nation, our environment, and our world. However, we can’t do any of it without your help. Your donation will allow us to continue our work and augment our efforts in 2016. As we face the effects of climate change, the influence of dirty energy companies and the aftermath of ineffective environmental stewardship, your support at this pivotal moment is critical. Please consider making a donation to Water Defense today, and help us to protect our resources and our future.

Mark Ruffalo
Founder & President

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