Super-Paddler Margo Pellegrino Welcomed At Rancocas Creek Homecoming After Paddling for 1,700 Miles for EPA Clean Water Rule

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Environment New Jersey

Pemberton, on the banks of the Rancocas – A broad collection of citizen activists and environmental advocates gathered today along the Rancocas Creek in the heart of the Pinelands to help officially welcome back Margo Pellegrino from a barnstorming paddle from Newark to Chicago this summer and to call for broader protections under the Clean Water Act.

Margo Pellegrino, a Medford Lakes resident, just completed a 45-day 1,700 mile paddle trek from Newark to Chicago via the Hudson River, Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. Along the way, she saw the threats our country’s waters are facing – and led the charge calling for the EPA’s Clean Water Rule protections to be enacted as well as testing water quality along the way.

“Everywhere I’ve paddled, every home in which I’ve been a guest, on these journeys, every person I’ve met, people get the need for clean water. They understand what it means in terms of their personal health. For those that make a living from water based recreation and tourism, of course, they get the economic implications. Folks understand clean water is intrinsically tied to property values and the desirability of a location. This observation seems to be a recurring theme that spans party lines. When people see their water being impacted by issues that would be remedied by the new EPA Clean Water Rule, it drives home why we need this rule. As I’ve paddled around this country’s coasts, clean water has a bigger fan club than any one elected official. People want clean water; they understand what the EPA Clean Water Rule will do to protect their water – both the water they play and recreate in and their drinking water. It’s really a no brainer,” said Margo Pellegrino, a Medford Lakes resident, mother and super paddler.

Despite their popularity, until recently more than 4,000 miles of New Jersey’s streams, roughly half, were not guaranteed protection under the nation’s Clean Water Act, thanks to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago that muddied the waters on what was protected.

“Margo Pellegrino’s journey has raised public awareness of the many threats to our country’s waters.  The Clean Water Act has been the cornerstone of U.S. environmental protections—ensuring that millions of Americans have access to safe drinking water as well as pollution-free places for swimming, fishing, and hunting.  We must be as steadfast as Margo was on her 1,700 mile paddle in fighting to protect our nation’s clean water,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

In late May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency changed that when it finalized a rule to restore protections for the headwaters and streams and wetlands left in legal limbo. The move was backed by 800,000 public comments—including tens of thousands from New Jerseyans— which included farmers, small businesses along the Shore and sportsmen.

“Margo is an inspiration for all of us. But Margo’s tireless efforts show that we can’t kayak alone if we want to restore the Clean Water Act. We need to move forward with strong state and federal actions, and Margo has led that charge. Clean water needs more friends, and you couldn’t ask for a better ally than Margo,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

Developers, oil companies, and other polluters, however, have waged a bitter campaign against the Clean Water Rule, and their allies in Congress are still pushing this summer to overturn it. The U.S. House voted in May to block the rule, and the full Senate will likely not take up a similar measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) before their August recess begins by the end of the week. Advocates are concerned the Senate Republican leadership could attach a repeal of the Clean Water Rule to a must-pass budget bill.

“We applaud Margo for her dedication and commitment for clean water and drawing attention to such an important issue. Every year, we see more threats to our waterways from toxic chemicals and over-development. We need to paddle forward to protect our most precious resources, our drinking water, and our waterways. We need to adopt stricter standards for waterways, while protecting these important drinking water sources. Not only do we need to adopt the Water of the United States rule, we need to do more. While we are doing this, the Christie Administration is rolling back protections like flood hazard rules, weakening C1 protections and stream buffer requirements, and allowing sewers in environmentally sensitive areas,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Instead of yacking about clean water Margo’s kayaking, and we are happy to see her drawing attention to the threats to clean water. She might go out and kayak by herself, but it will take all of us to work together and clean-up the waterways. By letting the public know our waters are at risk, we can build public support. We need to paddle the Christie Administration to protect our waterways.

The Clean Water Rule applies to streams and wetlands across the state, but no more of a critical area than Barnegat Bay, which suffers from ongoing pollutant load issues that are turning the Bay into dead zones.

“Barnegat Bay is the largest water body in the state of New Jersey. If public officials were serious about protecting it they would use a quantitative approach to the pollution sources, like nitrogen. Good citizens like Margo are quantifying the impact and leading the way. The newly adopted federal ‘Clean Water Rule’ will help to extend protective measures to the streams, creeks and rivers that flow to the sea,” said Britta Wenzel, Executive Director, Save Barnegat Bay.

This is not Margo’s first long-distance paddle. Last August, Margo paddled for nine days and 600 miles around New Jersey to chemically map the New Jersey’s water systems via outrigger canoe.  (Please see attachment) In this initial study, test result analyzed by Hope20 found shockingly high concentrations of Hydrocarbons (oil and gas industry contaminants), as well as toxic Agricultural and Home Pesticides and Herbicides; Thiofencarb (2.5 +/-0.8 ppb), Temephos (6.1 +/- 2.8 ppb ), and Thiofanox (2.8 +/- 1.7 ppb ).

“Margo’s journey represents all the families that care about their water quality. It is more important now than ever before to have citizens speak out on this important issue. Thanks to Margo for leading the charge,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, Deputy Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. 

These compounds are toxic to humans (2-3 ppb). Temephos is highly toxic to bees, aquatic species, especially; coho salmon (LD50 0.35 mg/kg), pink shrimp (LD50 0.005 mg/l), and the eastern oyster (LD50 0.019 mg/l). These numbers only reflect a small concentration of the total contaminant load, and only a minor fraction of the 500 contaminants we tested for.

“The Clean Water Rule is the biggest step for clean water in a decade,” said O’Malley. “We need the continued leadership of Sen. Menendez and Sen. Booker to have this rule’s back so that New Jersey’s waterways are protected. If Margo can paddle for 1,700 miles for clean water, we can do our part.”