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From the Big Apple to the Big Easy

One Woman's Paddle For Clean Water

What would compel a mother to leave her children and paddle an outrigger canoe halfway across the country in the name of clean water?

Margo Pellegrino, in her kayak. (Photo courtesy of Margo Pellegrino)
Provided by Margo Pellegrino

Margo Pellegrino, a self-identified and proud stay-at-home mother from New Jersey, is solo-paddling her outrigger canoe 2,000 miles from New York City to New Orleans in an effort to raise awareness of U.S. water pollution problems and the need for policies and public action to clean up our waterways. This July, Margo finished the first leg of her two part journey in Chicago.

"For the sake of my children and future generations, I felt I needed to help folks see that we are indeed impacting our ocean and fresh water by what we do within our respective watersheds. I also want to show that there are a variety of organizations working to remedy these most pressing issues, so there is hope!"

Margo says she has seen one too many polluted waterways to sit still. “Yes, it’s a kind of crazy thing to do to get folks thinking about and caring for our ocean and fresh water resources,” she says. “But when you consider what we are actually doing to these resources, maybe it isn’t.”

“Because what we are doing to our streams, rivers, lakes, bays, and oceans is really insane.”

Our nation’s waterways are in trouble. Our waters are dealing with outbreaks of toxic algae slime due to agricultural pollution and runoff, extreme dumping of mining waste, dumping of toxic coal ash waste, mismanaged sewage systems that lead to harmful stormwater and sewage overflow into our rivers and lakes, and many other problems amid a changing climate, severe droughts, and water shortages.

Margo, in particular, will be highlighting the importance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently updated Clean Water Rule.

These protections, which stood for decades since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, were dismantled in the last decade. As a result, 59% of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands were left vulnerable to toxic pollution.

While the EPA recently released an updated rule that reaffirms longstanding federal protections for many of our nation’s waters, industry pressure resulted in EPA exempting from federal protection many streams, wetlands and other waterways. Earthjustice, representing the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club, filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to ensure that the rule adequately protects the nation’s waters from pollution and destruction.

Margo is a team member of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a group of “seaweed rebels,” the ocean equivalent of grassroots organizers.

She is an adventurer, enduring the grueling conditions of long-distance solo paddling, such as severe weather, waterway currents, isolation, and self-doubt. Margo has completed several long-distance paddles, from Miami to Maine, around the Gulf Coast, and the West Coast along with a few smaller, more local jaunts to highlight ocean issues.

The mapped route for the first leg of Margo's paddle.
The mapped route for the first leg of Margo's paddle.

The first leg of this journey began at the end of May and took her through six states, from New York to Illinois, via the Hudson River, Erie Canal, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan, to educate the public about watershed issues that impact our drinking water and waterways, and eventually harm our oceans.

At each stop along the way, Margo met with local groups working on these issues. “Keeping our rivers, lakes, bays, and ocean clean and healthy not only benefits our own individual health but also ensures that these economic drivers continue to contribute to a healthy tourism and recreational industry,” says Margo. She collected water samples all along the way using HOPE2O test kits provided by Blue Ocean Sciences.

Margo will be sharing the results and information about the pollution problems on her website Paddle4Blue.wordpress.com throughout her paddle. Follow Margo's paddle via SPOT Tracker, and check back on this page for trip updates.

“I’m hoping my journey can serve as a reminder of the responsibility we all share in protecting our most precious resource: clean water.”

(Having trouble viewing the entire story? Read it at Earthjustice's Storify.)

Protect the Clean Water Rule

Lend your voice for clean water protections

After a decade of uncertainty created by the Supreme Court and the previous administration, President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy have finalized a rule to protect many waterways and, according to the EPA, sources of drinking water supplies for more than 117 million Americans.

Unfortunately, Congress is determined to put the interests of polluters ahead of clean water, including the quality of the water your family drinks. Urge your senators to defend the Clean Water Rule. Send your message

Grab A Paddle

Margo Pellegrino is using paddle activism to add the upstream voices to the downstream ocean chorus, from the sandy beaches to our vulnerable, flood prone cities, and all folks in-between. What you can do:

  1. 1. Spread the Word Share Margo's story and tell your friends about the Clean Water Rule.
  2. 2. Follow @slowpaddler Support Margo and get the latest on her journey.
  3. 3. Subscribe to Earthjustice Keep up-to-date with the latest news on the long-awaited Clean Water Rule.

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