Freshwater Heroes 2017

Freshwater Heroes 2017

Wellington Water Watchers

One can hardly know about the bottled water issue in Ontario without coming across Wellington Water Watchers.

Mike Nagy, one of the founding members of Wellington Water Watchers, which has been a key leader in Canada’s fight against bottled water—although Mike prefers the term “packaged water” since water now comes in all sorts of containers. The group’s passion comes from a very personal place— the need to protect their community’s source of drinking water.

What makes the Wellington Water Watchers such an effective Freshwater Hero is their strong handle on the technical aspects of the issue—which means everyone—from government to media—often want to talk to them. The group’s creativity, passion, and bravery in the face of opposition, makes them one of Canada’s great water champions, and Freshwater Future is thrilled to recognize them as a Freshwater Hero.

Front 40

Have you ever received shocking news that left you with that horrible gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach?

The founders of Front 40, a grassroots organization in Menominee County, Michigan, had that feeling when they found out that a mining company had leased thousands of acres of state-owned minerals on the shores of the Menominee River.

Local residents responded by organizing Front 40, an environmental group dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the “Back Forty” venture that was created by the mining interests.

Front 40 has played a critical role in creating public awareness of mining exploration currently taking place in Menominee County. They have informed citizens and elected officials of the reality of community economic issues typically involved with mining operations.

Front 40’s leadership on mining issues has resulted in several municipal resolutions against the Back Forty mine and increased understanding of the threats to water resources from open pit sulfide mining. Freshwater Future is pleased to present Front 40 with a Freshwater Hero Award for their work to prevent waters from being impacted from mining development.

San Juana “Juani” Olivares

When the Flint water crisis first started, San Juana Olivares, or Juani as most know her, realized that the Hispanic and Latino community in Flint would need help.

At the time, she was the Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Community Center, but started to volunteer for the Genesee County Hispanic and Latino Collaborative. She jumped right in to help Spanish-speaking residents of Flint be more aware of the dangerously high levels of lead in the water supply and where to get safe water.

Now Juani is the President & CEO of the Genesee County Hispanic and Latino Collaborative (GCHLC). Juani’s knowledge of the needs of her community, combined with a resolve to make a difference, have led to GCHLC becoming a hub of activities, educational programming, social services, water and filter pick up location, a food pantry and health fairs.

Last fall, Juani accompanied a delegation to Washington, DC to lobby Congress to reauthorize and bolster national infrastructure funds like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Water Resources and Development Act.

Freshwater Future is thrilled to name Juani as a Freshwater Hero for 2017

Hank Saunders

Anywhere Henrietta “Hank” Saunders goes she is sure to find a long-lost friend. It is her kind spirit, combined with her dedication to the environment and her commitment as an inveterate volunteer, that makes Hank deserving of a Freshwater Hero Award.

As a retired financial services professional, she has shared her skills as an analyst with a number of nonprofits in the Chicago area and even at the national level as the treasurer of the National League of Women Voters. At Freshwater Future, we have had the pleasure of working with Hank in her role as Treasurer of the Lake Michigan Chapter of League of Women Voters and Faith in Place. Hank currently serves as the treasurer for the national League of Women Voters.

Hank’s positive energy and can-do attitude is inspirational. She “walks the talk” of helping the environment by making her home energy efficient and even having her garden certified as native! Hank embodies the League of Women Voters ethos that democracy is not a spectator sport, and she shows it through her work to involve, include, and engage people in so many efforts.

Gary Belan

Gary Belan understands the importance of working on water issues at all levels—from national and international groups to local watershed advocates. Freshwater Future has benefited from his knowledge and perspective, and are grateful for the years of service he has given to our organization. For six years Gary has been on one or both of the boards of Freshwater Future and Freshwater Future Canada. As Senior Director at American Rivers, Gary has brought valuable insight about the issues facing organizations across the Great Lakes, federal policy, watershed politics, and green infrastructure. We wish Gary luck as he continues to work on rivers and use his passion to support groups and citizens in their fight to protect their waters. Thank you Gary for being an amazing Freshwater Hero!

John Jackson

John Jackson is a passionate leader who has been tirelessly advancing public engagement throughout the Great Lakes—since before “engagement” was a buzzword! Combining an extraordinary depth of knowledge about the Great Lakes with passion and a strategic vision for binational collaboration, John has a remarkable ability to influence Great Lakes policies and issues.

For many years, John’s work was focused through Great Lakes United (GLU)— which he described as an international coalition of over 140 groups with some 100,000 diverse individuals, all working to protect the basin’s health and beauty. Today, John continues to dedicate his time to Great Lakes issues, with a particular focus on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and engaging stakeholders and the public in caring for our shared waters.

We are grateful for John’s unparalleled passion, contributions and dedication, and are pleased to present him with a Freshwater Hero award.

Dan McDermott

Freshwater Future honours Dan McDermott who sadly passed away in September 2016. He was most recently the Director of the Ontario Chapter of Sierra Club.

Dan dedicated his life and career to protecting the environment. He tirelessly and bravely fought for our air and water. He never feared taking on even the toughest of opponents, including the nuclear and coal industries.

Dan was a mentor to many young activists. He inspired generations through his realistic but optimistic approach. He improved the quality of our lives in many ways, including through his work to stop acid rain and to establish Ontario as the first North American jurisdiction to phase out coal.

And like Freshwater Future, Dan believed in strong Canada-US cooperation. It was his idea to create the Sierra Club Bi-National Great Lakes Committee.

Undoubtedly, Dan will continue to inspire all those who knew him to follow their passion, maintain the course, and fight for clean water and air. He will go down in the history books as a Freshwater Hero.


Geoff Peach

“The Coastal Centre.” These words replaced the traditional hello when calling Geoff Peach at the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation, a greeting that was always accompanied by a smile from a man living his passion. Having grown up on the Lake Huron shore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Geoff grew up to be the voice of the coast itself. After working for all three Conservation Authorities with jurisdiction along the Lake Huron shore, Geoff co-founded the Coastal Centre where he worked as the Coastal Resources Manager and Coastal Science & Stewardship Advisor until 2017

Geoff spent his life sharing his passion for coastal science with those who lived and played along the Lake Huron shore. He taught coastal municipalities about how the shore worked, and showed them how to better manage their beaches and coastal wetlands. He designed new programs to engage residents in coastal stewardship, and teach local students about healthy beaches. But it wasn’t just about what Geoff did for the Lake Huron shore, it was about the natural talent and energy he brought to the work. He made caring for the coast contagious.


<– Back

Stay Informed

Connect With us


© 2022 Freshwater Future. All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.