Clean Water Champion: Jeff Barnum

Jeff Barnum – the new Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper with Conservation Law Foundation
PREP’s Clean Water Champion is a monthly feature that profiles people and partners working to make a difference around our watershed.
 This month we got to catch up with an old friend who’s got a new role, the new Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper, Jeff Barnum. Jeff’s long been engaged in the Great Bay watershed  he was most recently the president of the Coastal Conservation Association of NH where he helped to establish the oyster shell recycling program which has proven to be instrumental in the work of restoring oysters to Great Bay. Jeff’s an avid recreational fisherman and serves on the board for the Great Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Jeff is a strong advocate for the health of Great Bay and we couldn’t be happier that he’s in this new role as our region’s Waterkeeper.
Jeff is proud to be the new Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper
PREP: How long have you been a champion for clean water?
Jeff: My father taught to fly fish when I was about six. We would drive to Pittsburg, NH from home,  through the White Mountains to Gorham, and up along the Androscoggin. The river was still being used to transport pulp from Errol down to Brown Paper Co. in Berlin. My two brothers and I would try to hold our noses for as long as it took for us to drive through town. The stink would turn your stomach. How could folks ever get used to that stomach-retching odor? Along with the nasty air, the mills were discharging disgusting brown water through huge pipes into the river. It was hard to believe.  No one needed to tell us that it was neither clean or a very good idea. Obviously, this was before the Clean Water Act. I would like to say that my dad wrote a nasty letter to the paper company, but I do not believe he did.
PREP: How’d you get started in protecting clean water?
Jeff: My wake-up call came years later. The water body that played a pivotal role was really just an insignificant stream that I had never seen. I was a selectman in a small Maine community when I was informed by the state, that my town had been identified as a potential site for a radioactive waste dump. That little stream, and the potential for contamination over time, was one part of our strategy in fending off what we, the town, thought was a really bad idea. In the end, even though the state offered a substantial, annual cash payment that the town refused, they gave up and looked elsewhere. To our credit, some of us shared our experiences and strategies with other targeted towns. Ultimately, no site was ever found.
PREP: What’s your favorite thing to do with or on water?
Jeff:  Fly fishing is definitely my recreation of choice.  Defining my personal attraction to fly fishing, to a non-fly fishing person, is quite impossible. I will say that every moment I fish, is time well-spent.  You are connected to everything, literally and figuratively.
PREP:What’s been your proudest moment as a clean water champion?
Jeff: Numerically, I am close to retirement. Applying to the Conservation Law Foundation for the position of Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper was taking a chance. I had to update my resume with details and events that were approximations, not necessarily exact dates. I could not remember the last time I had to interview for a position, having been self-employed most of my life. Frankly, I was thrilled to be offered the position.
PREP: What’s one simple thing you would tell somebody to do to protect the places around the Seacoast they love?
Jeff: The simplest, (and actually the most important) thing that each of us can do to conserve and improve marine resources, is to convince someone who doesn’t yet see the value in doing just that. Too often, we spend time advocating for chance with the wrong people. Preaching to the choir is safe and comforting. But, we have to reach beyond that audience. Beyond our comfort range. Clean water is a common denominator. Start a conversation with someone you do not know. Convince them that clean water benefits all of us.
Whether or not we can save the eelgrass, bring the oyster beds back, control nutrient loading, increase dissolved oxygen in the rivers, decrease fecal coliform levels and minimize pollutants from stormwater, will depend on all of us, all those folks who do not yet realize that they have a role to play. As the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper, I’m here to help.
Reach out to Jeff  – 603-770-3201 or
Visit the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper’s website HERE

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.