by Todd Ambs
In each issue of the newsletter, GLAHNF profiles one of its Advisory Panel Members. In this issue, we’re pleased to tell you about Todd Ambs and the River Alliance of Wisconsin. Todd has served as a GLAHNF Advisory Panel Member since 1998.
With hundreds of rivers, watersheds, and 15 counties directly connected to two of the Great Lakes, Wisconsin strongly identifies as a member of the Great Lakes Basin. Like our Great Lakes neighbors, Wisconsinites are well aware that many of our exceptional economic, social, and natural treasures are connected to and come from the Lakes.
The River Alliance of Wisconsin (RAW) is pleased to be part of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund (GLAHNF)’s effort to protect such a significant natural resource, which we share with eight other states, two provinces, and many distinct indigenous communities. GLAHNF provides an excellent opportunity to stay in touch with our Great Lakes Basin peers and to create a partnership toward shared goals.
The River Alliance of Wisconsin is a non-partisan, non-profit, advocacy group founded in 1993 by a group of dedicated river activists from across the state. The organization works to make positive changes to the way people relate to rivers, increase awareness of river values and the threats our rivers face, and encourage individual participation in river protection, particularly at the local grassroots level. The organization’s membership includes more than 1,700 individual and business members and more than 7,500 individuals represented by over four dozen local group members, making the organization one of the largest statewide river groups in the nation.
Currently, the River Alliance is working in a number of areas including helping local citizens restore free-flowing rivers by advocating for the selective removal of old, unsafe small dams to restore the natural balance of the aquatic habitats of the rivers by allowing them to flow free; minimizing the environmental impact of hydropower facilities, and increasing recreational opportunities by being the lead citizen organization representing river and citizen interests in the hydropower relicensing process in Wisconsin; strengthening local grassroots river and watershed protection efforts to provide long-term river stewardship, and advocating for rivers at the state regulatory agencies.
The local group assistance project is designed to build and support an issue-focused network of local groups dedicated to the protection and restoration of their “home” waters. River protection groups have proliferated during the past decade, and at present there are over 120 local river and watershed groups in Wisconsin. In the past year alone, the local groups program has (a) provided one-on-one assistance to more than three dozen river and watershed groups, (b) held two training workshops for river activists, (c) co-hosted a community-based Conservation Conference attended by more than 300 river and land conservationists in Wisconsin, and (d) has just completed a Watershed Activist Toolkit for groups around the state.
One of the organization’s most innovative and farsighted programs works to restore rivers by improving the decision-making process that enables selective dam removal to be considered on its merits. One of the major tools for this work is a Dam Removal Toolkit that the River Alliance produced in conjunction with other national river conservation groups and public agencies. The toolkit consists of the booklet, The Citizens Guide to Dam Removal, and Taking a Second Look, a 22-minute video highlighting the positive impacts of dam removal in three communities across the country. The program is currently identifying dams in the Lake Michigan Basin that will generate the greatest ecological benefit by their removal and educating dam owners and regulators on the economic and environmental benefits of selective dam removal of old, unsafe, and uneconomical dams.
For the past seven years, the River Alliance has worked tirelessly to promote strong state rules to prevent polluted runoff. This year, the River Alliance organized a “Clean Water Coalition” of 37 groups to promote the adoption and implementation of effective rules to control polluted runoff—the number one source of water pollution in Wisconsin. As a reward for this work, the most comprehensive environmental rules ever promulgated were recently completed! The rules will significantly reduce polluted runoff from agriculture, construction, roads, and other municipal sources. The coalition will work to make sure the rules are implemented to the fullest extent possible.
Todd Ambs, as executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin and a GLAHNF Advisory Panel member, stresses the importance of working together to share ideas, mutual support, and power to pursue common goals.
“GLAHNF provides critical funds, networking support, and technical assistance to folks who are on the front lines of the battle to protect our precious, and increasingly endangered, aquatic resources. Through my work with GLANHF, I have learned a lot, made connections with lots of good people doing great work—and, hopefully, am helping to build a greater sense of shared purpose for all of the groups working on water-related issues in the Great Lakes Basin,” said Ambs.
Todd has helped GLAHNF develop and expand the role that Advisory Panel members play in the organization. Advisory Panel members now have a job description and a set list of tasks that they work to complete on behalf of GLAHNF. Todd is hoping to spend more time in the coming year working with groups in Wisconsin who have received support from GLAHNF. Many of those groups also work closely with the River Alliance on various river issues, making the networking connection that much more important.
For more information on the River Alliance of Wisconsin, visit the organization’s website at www.wisconsinrivers.org.
Executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, Todd Ambs has over 20 years of experience working for non-profit and governmental agencies. Todd has been with the River Alliance of Wisconsin since 1998. He also served as Senior Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin Attorney General and, prior to that, was executive director of Rivers Unlimited, the statewide river protection organization in Ohio. Todd’s extensive experience in policy, state legislative affairs, and nonprofit management has enabled the River Alliance of Wisconsin to develop its role as a key player in river, surface water, and groundwater debates and protection efforts throughout Wisconsin.
Public policy work in the legislative and state regulatory agencies takes up a great deal of Todd’s time. He has worked closely with other groups to fight efforts to gut funding for water pollution enforcement programs in Wisconsin, opposed efforts to weaken wetland protections and is currently working to develop legislation to strengthen Wisconsin’s groundwater laws. Todd is regarded as a forceful, credible and effective voice for the flowing waters of Wisconsin. He also fully embraces the River Alliance philosophy of serving as a partner when appropriate and a watchdog when necessary to state and local governmental agencies.
“My love for flowing waters is embodied in the words of Barry Lopez, who once wrote that, ‘[t]o stick your hands into a river is to feel the cords that bind the Earth together.’ I believe that helping local folks to speak on behalf of rivers, watersheds, and other aquatic resources is perhaps the most significant contribution we can make to protecting and restoring our most valuable resource – our water.”
“I’m proud to play a part in the ongoing work of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund”, he said. Todd likes to say that, just as all politics is local, all river protection is ultimately local. That sentiment is easily extended to other aquatic habitat protection work, and GLAHNF is carrying that message throughout the Great Lakes.
GLAHNF Advisory Panel Member
River Alliance of Wisconsin
306 E. Wilson Street – Suite 2W
Madison, WI 53703