The Watershed Institute’s annual meeting on April 25 featured Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, who shared how climate change makes environmental protections crucial for public safety and urged the audience of roughly 100 people to hold governments accountable.
The event, the first in-person annual meeting in three years in the wake of the pandemic, touched on themes of renewal and reawakening – a metaphor inspired by a rare deciduous conifer dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, on the Watershed’s campus.
“Each year, when this tree sheds its leaves, we wait expectantly for its spring renewal. Akin to the return of ephemerals, the invasion of amphibians, we welcome the return of volunteers to our StreamWatch monitoring program – now celebrating its 30th anniversary,” said Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Watershed. “With our mission of protecting water and our environment, the Watershed has no more important partner than NJDEP.”
Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette shared how NJDEP’s role is to drive environmental policy and direct programs that protect public health and environment, including managing the polluted stormwater runoff and catastrophic flooding wrought by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida last September.
He stressed the importance of reminding elected officials, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and the public of the interconnectedness of the environment and public safety – especially as global warming gives rise to more intense and powerful storms.
“That is the sad reality of a changing climate in New Jersey and we’ve got to constantly remind our leaders of that fact. That protecting the watershed, that ensuring the protection of stream corridors, that making folks back up and build up from the water, it is not because we want to hug the trees. It is because we still want to hug the folks who live in the houses where the trees were…. We are interconnected the way the water is.”
Those action calls could be lawsuits, grants to rectify polluted waterways or participation in Earth Day stream cleanups, such as those recently hosted by the Watershed in a dozen locales.
“Every little bit matters,” LaTourette said. “Every trash cleanup matters, every step we take to rid our waterways of plastic pollution matters, and every pipeline you fight matters.”
“It is impossible to do this job alone. We need every funder, every organizer, and every employee of institutions like this one … to care for the environment that we all share,” he continued. “Thank you for your partnership with us and for critically being accountability partners as well. Because when we fall down as a government, stand up and tell us.”
Barbie Cole, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said the Watershed is burnishing its reputation for protecting the environment, conserving lands, and providing environmental education in the region.
“The Institute is the ‘go-to’ resource in the region. We are broadening our scope by working on polluted stormwater runoff and flooding,” she said. “We are a resource for helping citizens enact change in their communities.”
The meeting also included an awards ceremony for distinguished volunteers, Watershed members, and a local educator who have helped us with the Watershed’s mission to keep our water clean, safe, and healthy.
Hella and Scott McVay received the Edmund W. Stiles Award for Environmental Leadership. They are accomplished leaders who have made significant contributions to the protection of New Jersey’s environment during their decades of residence in the Princeton area. Hella, a noteworthy mathematician, was a founder of the Whole Earth Center in Princeton more than 50 years ago on Earth Day with several other women. The Center was the first organic food store in New Jersey. Among Scott’s many leadership positions was his tenure as the first executive director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He was instrumental in making environmental protection a fundamental goal of the foundation.
Shani Peretz received the Richard Rotter Award for Excellence in Environmental Education, for engaging her students with activities to protect and enhance waterways in local communities. A research scientist, Dr. Peretz joined the Peddie School science department in 2005 and serves as an adviser to the school’s Environmental and Sustainability Team. She connects her students to both science and advocacy and immerses them in hands-on experiences. She supports student-led stewardship for Earth Day and, in 2019, brought about 50 students to help The Watershed Institute install floating wetlands at the upstream Meadow Lakes senior living complex. As the Watershed celebrates the 30th anniversary of StreamWatch water monitoring program, we are excited that she has agreed to pilot the expansion of this program in schools. She received her Ph.D. in genetics from Yale University in 2001 and her B.S. in biology from Pennsylvania State University in 1995.
Alix Gerry received The Watershed Institute’s Clean Water Champion Award in honor of her dedicated service to the StreamWatch. Looking for ways to help her local community, she encouraged the Garden Club of Princeton to join the StreamWatch program at its inception in 1992. For thirty years, she has faithfully returned to her monitoring site on Honey Lake in Pennington every month to track changes in water chemistry and algal blooms.
Members voted in two new trustees.
Damon Missouri is an Executive Director and Banker in the Philadelphia office of J.P. Morgan Private Bank. Damon advises some of the most successful clients in the area, including entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, families, endowments, foundations and not for profits. He draws on his background as an advisor, leader and Army Chaplain to guide clients in navigating these sophisticated transitions. Born and raised in New Jersey, Damon attended Rutgers University, an institution that has become a family legacy. He earned a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Biological Sciences. Damon holds a M.Div. from Liberty University. He completed advanced professional military education at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He and his wife Nikema live in Hopewell, New Jersey, and are the parents of seven children ages 11 to 26 years.
Peter Q. Tovar was Managing Director and Head of Internal Communications for Legg Mason through January 1st, 2020. Peter joined Legg Mason in February 2008 in Corporate Communications with a mandate to build the Legg Mason corporate brand, hire an ad agency and develop a corporate advertising program. Prior to joining Legg Mason, he spent 13 years in various marketing capacities at Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management. Peter graduated from Harvard College cum laude and is a graduate of the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Members also approved a second term for:
Ger Brophy, Ph.D., Princeton, NJ; Barbie Cole, Hopewell, NJ; Enrique Curchitser, Ph.D., Princeton, NJ; Silvia Strauss Debenedetti, Ph.D., Princeton, NJ; Shefali Shah, Princeton, NJ and an extension of a second term for Robert Baldwin, Princeton, NJ.
Outgoing trustees were recognized for their dedication and years of service. The outgoing members include Sandra Allen, Patti Cronheim, Bob Harris, and Mark Nurse.