His passion led him to his current commitment as the Yadkin Riverkeeper, which has given him a chance to make an impact on the long-term health of the river.
“As executive director,” said Naujoks while sipping coffee near his office in Winston-Salem Thursday, “I do a lot of things, but as Riverkeeper, the primary focus is to serve as a full-time advocate and a voice for the Yadkin River and work to enforce environmental laws and regulations, to protect water quality and work with citizens on clean water initiatives so that future generations have clean drinking water.”
The Yadkin River is some distance away from the river where Naujoks knew as a child. His early experiences were on the Upper Delaware River in Pennsylvania.
But his choice for college landed him at N.C. State University where he earned a degree in a field of study he created in environmental policy and sustainable development.
Naujoks was born in Pennsylvania and raised on the Upper Delaware River. He graduated cum laude from N.C. State University with a degree he created in environmental policy and Sustainable Development. He worked for the N.C. Wildlife Federation for eight years.
He has helped reform the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forest Management Plan. He was the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper from 2001-2008, and in 2002 he worked with whistleblowers to find over 20 environmental and labor law violations at Raleigh’s sewage treatment plant which is the largest discharger to the Neuse River.
He helped prevent the Town of Butner from discharging in 2005 up to 61,130 pounds a year of more nitrogen into Falls Lake. In November 2008 he was hired as the first Yadkin Riverkeeper. His office is at 308 Patterson Ave., Winston-Salem.
“So I review permits, discharge permits, sewage permits. I review any type of policy change that may impact water quality or negatively impact water quality,” he said. “I work to remediate potentially environmentally bad things. There is the opportunity to really clean up the river basin and do some really important things that are really negatively impacting human health like contaminated fish.
So what is the quality of the Yadkin River now?
“I get that question a lot. It’s a tricky question. What people need to understand is, the good news is that the upper parts of the river basin are not significantly development and very rural. We have mountain trout streams.”
The headwaters at Kerr Scott Lake, he said, are basically clean, but as you travel down the river basin, things change, and you find more chickens and cattle in the region. Pollution comes from runoff from fertilizers, he said, with algae, phosphorus and more.
“Just because water quality is seemingly good where they live, it doesn’t mean the pollution coming past them isn’t having an impact,” he said.
What can people do to support his organization?
“I think if people can donate or join, the more members we have, the louder the voice we have. There is strength in numbers. Sign up for our list-serve,” he said. He has a newsletter that is very informative. The winter 2010 issue is already out.
There are 50 things to do for clean water on the web site. Ask your elected officials what they are doing to protect the Yadkin River, he said, adding most citizens would be disappointed that most officials do not have an idea of what should be done.
“Most politicians don’t really think about it a whole lot,” he said. “Unfortunately we just don’t have enough citizens asking those hard questions.” Write Sen. Kay Hagen and Sen. Richard Burr, he suggested. If a few people write, it may not help, he added, but if 2,000 or more people write, it may help. There are money trails from polluters to politicians, he added.
An action alert is coming out this week on the Chesapeake Bay and legislation that threatens the Clean Water Act, giving exemptions to polluters, he said.
“The Yadkin River Story” is a new documentary that will open between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the new Yadkin Cultural Arts Center at 226 East Main Street.
It is part of the Annual Harvest Festival and was produced by photojournalist Christine Rucker, and journalist Phoebe Zerwick.
Naujoks commented on nuclear power in North Carolina. Is it safe here?
“It’s not safe. It’s not safe at all. This whole revived nuclear power debate, I challenge anyone, and I hope you quote me on this, I challenge anyone who is considering nuclear power to tell me what they are going to do with the waste. Yucca Mountain has now been closed.
“Right now in this country, every single nuclear power plant is storing nuclear materials on site because they have no place to ship it to,” he said. “There is still this huge problem about nuclear waste, and there is no answer. There’s still this huge problem of leftover nuclear waste, and there is nowhere to store it.”
This material has a 10,000-year afterlife, he noted, noting solar power could be used as an alternate power source along with other sources like sewage treatment plants.
“If these companies like Duke Power want to do nuclear power, they should go ahead and do it on their own and not rely on any tax base or subsidies or incentives. They should take that financial risk themselves.”