One of our vendors, Theaux Le Gardeur, owner of Backwaters Fly Shop is also the Executive Director of Gunpowder RIVERKEEPERS, a nonprofit helping to keep our waters clean. Here’s an excerpt from  Baltimore Magazine where he partners with Blue Water Baltimore on a recent project.

Alice Volpitta spent her childhood catching tadpoles and skipping stones in Gunpowder Falls, the freshwater river running through a steep ravine in her hometown, Monkton, in northern Baltimore County. The rat-tat-tatting of woodpeckers echoed in the dense hemlock forest, while the rolling hills were lush with blue and gold wildflowers

Years later, Volpitta’s upbringing on the river compelled her to devote her life to cleaning up the waterways flowing south into the Patapsco River.

Today, she serves as the Baltimore Harbor waterkeeper with the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore, an organization founded in 2010 with a mission to restore the health of the city’s rivers, streams, and harbor, “plagued for decades by trash, toxins, polluted stormwater, and sewage runoff,” Volpitta explains.

Volpitta’s status as waterkeeper makes her one of roughly 300 waterkeepers (or riverkeepers, they’re sometimes called) worldwide. Licensed through the nonprofit organization Waterkeeper Alliance, Volpitta is part of a grassroots movement dedicated to defending the human right to safe drinking, fishing, and swimming water around the globe.

While Volpitta keeps an eye on the harbor, her colleague Theaux Le Gardeur keeps his sights on Baltimore’s watershed areas, including waterways that supply the city’s drinking water.

Waterkeepers like Volpitta and Le Gardeur spend as much time monitoring contamination levels as they do advocating for clean water and holding polluters accountable.

“Our responsibility as waterkeepers is to enforce the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 by the Nixon administration,” explains Le Gardeur, who is riverkeeper of the Bush and nearby Gunpowder River and their watersheds, which include the Prettyboy and Loch Raven Reservoirs that supply drinking water to the 1.5 million residents in and around Baltimore.

“People think we work for a state or federal agency, but we do the opposite: We make sure government agencies and all others— small businesses, big businesses, even people out on the water having fun—follow laws that protect water and ultimately the communities.”

Like Volpitta, Le Gardeur grew up frolicking in the playground of the great outdoors. Originally from Covington, Louisiana, Le Gardeur vacationed as a child with his parents in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, learning to fly fish on the Cullasaja River, brimming with waterfalls—and trout.

His passion for fly fishing brought him to Volpitta’s hometown, Monkton, where he now operates a fly-fishing shop, Backwater Anglers, and is the executive director of the nonprofit Gunpowder RIVERKEEPER® (GRK).

On top of running the store and leading fly-fishing expeditions, Le Gardeur patrols waterways in his canoes and skiffs and works with pro bono attorneys to craft legal arguments against violations of the Clean Water Act.

In 2020, for instance, GRK issued an intent to sue the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that the EPA failed to enforce the Maryland Department of the Environment’s timely cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls, a toxic chemical banned in 1979, in parts of the Gunpowder and Bird Rivers, which flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

In another case, Le Gardeur argued against a permit allowing a wastewater treatment plant in Carroll County to discharge water into a stream flowing into Baltimore County’s Western Run that would eventually end up in the Loch Raven Reservoir. Le Gardeur dropped the lawsuit after two years of deliberation in exchange for the plant adhering to tighter testing and transparency in reporting—a precedent that changed the public notice requirement for more than 150 similarly sized wastewater plants statewide. The plant also  agreed to contribute $20,000 to GRK’s work to promote clean water.

“Clean water benefits everyone involved, and resolutions like this are a win-win for us all,” Le Gardeur says.


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