In 1994, a group of Alaskans – concerned about rapid ecological changes unfolding in Cook Inlet - came together and formed Cook Inletkeeper, modeled after successful "Waterkeeper" programs across the country. In 1995, local conservation groups (Alaska Center for the Environment, Greenpeace, Trustees for Alaska) negotiated a settlement with Cook Inlet oil & gas producers (Unocal, Shell-Western & Marathon) for over 4,200 violations of the federal Clean Water Act in Cook Inlet. The EPA found the allegations so serious that it joined the litigation, and rather than face huge potential penalties in court, the oil companies chose to direct 3 years of start-up funding to Cook Inletkeeper in a landmark settlement.
The "Waterkeeper" concept dates back to the 19th century English tradition where Riverkeepers were the wardens of private streams, assuring the waters were healthy, well stocked and free of poachers. In the 1980's, fishermen concerned about pollution in New York's Hudson River started the first Waterkeeper program in the United States. Today, there are hundreds Waterkeeper programs across the country, and together they comprise the Waterkeeper Alliance. Each Waterkeeper has a vessel to actively patrol their respective watersheds, and their common goal is to protect water quality through active stewardship, research, advocacy and education.
Since its inception, Inletkeeper has become a leader at the state and national levels in the fight for clean water and healthy fisheries. Some of Cook Inletkeeper’s major accomplishments include:
- The state granted everyday Alaskans the legal right to reserve water in a wild salmon stream! Over 14,000 Alaskans submitted comments to the state in support of an in-stream flow reservation, requiring water to be kept in Middle Creek in the Chuitna River watershed.
- Worked with local municipalities and harbormasters to kick-off Alaska's first Clean Harbors Certification Project, designed to save money while reducing boat-based pollution. We’ve already certified four harbors and we’re working on more! Plus, we are leading the effort statewide to address pollution and navigation problems associated with abandoned and derelict vessels!
- Pioneered the science needed to understand the impacts of climate change on Cook Inlet salmon streams; today, this work has spread across Alaska, as politicians, managers and developers increasingly understand the threats posed by fossil fuels to the health of our fisheries.
- Spearheaded the Alaska Coal Working Group, which grew into a statewide effort designed to protect our climate and our oceans by keeping Alaska’s prolific coal reserves in the ground.
- Played a lead role helping to secure an endangered species listing for the beleaguered Cook Inlet beluga whale (with critical habitat near the proposed Chuitna coal mine), and played a central role helping to obtain a dedicated tug vessel – for the first time ever - to assist oil tankers in rough Inlet waters.
- Co-led fight to drive coalbed methane development from Southcentral Alaska; in 2004, the State of Alaska rescinded its short-sighted CBM program, and in 2005, companies relinquished over 300,000 acres of leases in the state’s most populated areas.
- Worked for the past twenty years with Native Tribes, fishing groups and others to oppose offshore oil and gas drilling in the sensitive and productive waters of Lower Cook Inlet; since our inception, only one set of leases has been active, and Inletkeeper has worked to ensure all drilling there occurs from onshore.
- Released the first-ever technical critique of Cook Inlet pipelines, leading to new rules and oversight policies that have reduced spills and leaks over 90%.
- Organized grassroots effort to restrict jetskis in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area – an important habitat for sport, commercial and subsistence fisheries and now the world’s largest jetski-free zone.
- Prevailed in landmark litigation that removed over 660,000 acres of sensitive beluga whale habitat from the State’s annual 4.2 million acre areawide oil and gas lease sale.
- Established Alaska’s first agency-approved citizen-based water quality monitoring program, and trained over 500 citizens to collect scientifically defensible data to guide better resource management decisions.
Our Logo - Sedna
Cook Inletkeeper has embraced “Sedna” – a mythological goddess of the sea – as its logo. Maritime cultures throughout the world have mythologies built around a sea goddess whose role it is to protect the ocean’s creatures and assure proper action for successful hunting and gathering resources from the sea. The Inuit peoples of the Arctic describe Sedna as the Mother of Sea Beasts, one of the primal forces of nature. During a dispute she was thrown out of a kayak and while trying to get back in, her fingers were severed. Her fingers then grew into fish, seals, whales, and all of the other sea creatures. She lives eternally on the ocean’s bottom and her tragic story explains the creation of all sea life. As a life-death symbol, she is feared and demanding. Proper action and due respect are required by us humans if we are to live harmoniously with nature and reap the ocean’s bounty. We have chosen the Sedna symbol to convey our program of caring, vigilance and responsibility.