Meet the Waterkeeper and celebrate 50 years of the Clean Water Act

By Carolyn Knaack 
Reader Contributor

Forty-three miles long, 144 miles of shoreline, 92,000 acres, depths of more than 1,150 feet with 23 different species of fish and only one Waterkeeper. Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest lake and a true gem of North Idaho. In 2009, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, was formed in order to protect and preserve Lake Pend Oreille and the surrounding waterways for future generations. 

We strive to keep the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille watershed swimmable, fishable and drinkable through community engagement, advocacy and education. As part of the worldwide Waterkeeper Alliance community, we are just one of the more than 350 Waterkeepers around the world. Together, our organizations work to protect our lakes, rivers, streams, bays, estuaries, seas, and oceans from pollution and misuse. Some other local Waterkeepers include Lake Coeur d’Alene Waterkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, Snake Riverkeeper and the Columbia Riverkeeper. 

Carolyn Knaack, left, teaches children about water quality. Courtesy photo.

LPOW is run by two staff members, four board members and dozens of volunteers. Our major programs and events include our water quality monitoring program, stormwater monitoring program, educational lake model demonstration, Waterkeeper Wednesdays and shoreline cleanup events. We are also known as the lake’s “watchdog” and keep an eye on poor legislation, destructive development, new mining operations, wastewater issues and myriad other issues that have the potential to impact our lake’s water quality. 

Often, we receive valuable information from our community members and volunteers about what they’re seeing around our watershed. The largest lake in Idaho requires us all to be good stewards and keep others responsible for our shared natural resources. 

Congress enacted the U.S. Clean Water Act in 1972 to improve water quality around the nation and protect our precious waterways. The CWA was a first-of-its-kind environmental federal legislation that came about during the birth of the American environmentalism movement along with the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, all leading to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

To date, the CWA has made meaningful strides in cleaning American waterways and helped Waterkeepers around the world achieve significant restoration, protection and cleanup of severe pollution problems. 

One of the CWA’s initial goals was to see all American waterways were drinkable, fishable and swimmable by 1983. However, half the waterways in our country are still impaired. Currently, Lake Pend Oreille is impaired for phosphorus, mercury and flow regime modification. In addition, according to the EPA, out of the 61.4% of waterbodies in Idaho that were assessed in 2014, 83% were impaired. 

For the past 50 years, implementation and enforcement of the CWA has not always been as strong as it could be, allowing pollution to proliferate. In addition, the threats to American waterways are different and so the law must be updated to address the very real challenges that currently exist as well as those that are only emerging. 

In order to preserve our precious ecosystems, we must work together as a community and for the benefit of us all. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the support of our community members through monetary contributions, stewardship, and volunteer hours. Please let us know how you would like to become involved as we strive to protect our vast watershed. We couldn’t do the work we do without you.

A volunteer crew from the Pend d’Oreille Winery takes a break from cleaning up the shoreline. Courtesy photo.

You can learn more about LPOW and what we do on social media, on our website at, and by signing up for our monthly email newsletter. You can also visit the office on the Cedar Street Bridge or call 208-597-7188. 

Starting Thursday, Aug. 5, we will be hosting a free and open community event every month at Matchwood Brewing Company. “Keeping up with the Waterkeeper” will be held on the first Thursday of each month from 5:30-7:00 p.m. in the brewery’s upstairs Community Room. Space is limited to 30 people, so please RSVP using the link on our website and our Facebook event. The Aug. 5 event will feature a presentation on current land use issues which will then be followed by a group discussion. We’re looking forward to seeing you there.

Carolyn Knaack is associate director of the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.

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