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July 17, 2009

Sierra Club Water Activist Named National River Hero


Biochemist and Illinois Water Sentinel Cindy Skrukrud has been honored as a National River Hero by the River Network at its annual River Rally, held this year in Baltimore. Above, Skrukrud accepts her award from 2003 River Hero Albert Ettinger, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

"River Network is the national consortium of watershed protection groups, representing some 700 organizations," says Water Sentinels Director Scott Dye, pictured with Skrukrud below. "This is the highest national honor that folks who do water work can receive."


The River Network created the River Heroes Award in 2001. Candidates for the award are nominated and selected by their peers. Skrukrud was one of six 2009 award winners.

"Cindy turns her knowledge into advocacy for our natural world," wrote one nominator. "Even rarer, she is a scientist who has the ability to inspire the efforts of others."

"Cindy is one of those special people who garners respect from parties on all sides of an issue," wrote another.

"Everyone who knows Cindy speaks of her ability to inspire both professionals and volunteers to her cause," said a third.


Through the Water Sentinels Program, Dr. Skrukrud has since 2001 worked with hundreds of volunteers on river cleanups, fishing, and water testing events, trained citizens to monitor construction sites to prevent soil erosion and sediment runoff, and showed them how to use Clean Water Act tools to comment on permits for wastewater discharges and wetland fills. Below, Skrukrud teaches kids how to use sediment sticks.


For the past six years Skrukrud has chaired the Fox River Study Group, of which the Sierra Club was a founding partner, to evaluate the condition of the river and figure out how best to clean up current problems and prevent future ones. "We've teamed up with the sewage treatment plant operators we used to just battle with," she says.

Skrukrud has also worked with the Prairie Rivers Network, Openlands, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center to protect streams and wetlands throughout Illinois, and she is currently working with Ducks Unlimited on their update of the National Wetlands Inventory for the state.

She recently formed a multi-stakeholder group in the Hickory Creek watershed south of Chicago. "I spend a lot of time encouraging officials to do more to reduce the pollution their towns discharge into streams from sewage treatment plants and stormwater systems," she says. As a direct result of her efforts, the town of Antioch became the first in Illinois to adopt a ban on lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus, and a dozen others have since followed suit.


Skrukrud is now working to establish the first National Wildlife Refuge in the Chicago region in the Nippersink watershed, where she lives. "Probably my greatest source of fun," she says, "has been working with fellow citizens and stakeholders to protect Nippersink Creek and others streams in the Fox River watershed in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin." 

Watch this video of the River Hero awards ceremony on the Sierra Sentinels YouTube site.

Award ceremony photos by Sue Lannin.


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