Community Grants Q&A with Miami Waterkeeper

Through this year’s Community Grants ‘Sustainable Environment’ category, The Miami Foundation aims to fund solutions to the environmental concerns our community faces – and in particular, those that are affecting our most vulnerable populations. Issues such as pollution and sea level rise caused by climate change affect us daily, and will continue to disproportionately impact our historically marginalized communities if we do not take clear and immediate steps towards a path of more sustainable resiliency solutions.

Fortunately, there are many efforts already underway in our community that are working to address these issues, including the work of our 2020 Community Grants award recipient, Miami Waterkeeper. Through their ongoing efforts in environmental advocacy and education, they are consistently working to shine a light on our local water quality issues, while expanding reach and bringing new Miami-Dade residents into the cause of fighting for a more clean and livable environment for all. We followed up with Kelly Cox, General Counsel at Miami Waterkeeper to learn more about their work and their vision for Miami-Dade County’s environmental future.


What does your organization seek to achieve for Miami, and how?

Launched in 2010, Miami Waterkeeper has become South Florida’s leading advocate for clean water, inspiring a movement of empowered citizens dedicated to achieving swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. Often tackling issues on multiple fronts, we address water quality, ecosystem protection, and sea level rise issues using community outreach, scientific research, and civic and legal action.

Our vision is to elevate our waterways in the community’s consciousness, and to make Biscayne Bay an honored household name. As our population continues to grow, it is imperative that we protect our natural resources and particularly our lifeblood – our water – to promote Miami’s resiliency and sustain our future. By meeting the water needs of our metropolis and ensuring our watershed’s health, we can also safeguard our community, our economy, and our environment.

Our vision for the future is a resilient Miami, one where our families can have drinking water free of pollutants, one where our wastewater doesn’t leak into the waters we swim and play in, one where our national treasures – like coral reefs – can thrive and grow, and one where our clean water economy can continue to flourish.


How does your work build the voice and strength of local residents around sustainable environmental issues?

Biscayne Bay has been a vital part of South Florida’s cultural heritage since the first inhabitants arrived thousands of years ago. Our hope is to inspire community connection to our Bay and waterways through fostering a sense of ownership for these resources. To achieve this, we have worked to connect with our community and elevate their voices around Miami’s most pressing water issues.

With the support of The Miami Foundation’s grant in 2020, we launched a new Stop Septic Pollution campaign. Using data acquired through our community education training “1,000 Eyes on the Water”, we observed septic pollution ranked as one of the top 10 threats faced by our waterways. Of those surveyed, over 40% did not know if their home or business relied on septic or sewer. This program data showcased a need to inform the residents we serve about their septic systems, how they work, and how they pollute, and also to provide detailed information on how all residents can advocate for policy changes designed to stop pollution from urban septic tanks. Our 1,000 Eyes on the Water program and the Stop Septic Pollution campaign work in tandem to give participants the tools they need to serve as a voice to our waterways and to collectively call for change.


What was the most important thing you learned in 2020, and how will that guide your organization’s work moving forward?

If last year illustrated one thing to our organization, it is the resilience of Miamians. Despite the myriad of challenges our community faced from the pandemic, our supporters still showed up for our waterways at virtual town halls, online educational events, and remote advocacy opportunities. Others jumped into action to assist Miami Waterkeeper in reporting pollution, documenting fish kills and algae blooms, or participating in socially-distant clean ups. This community-based support has fueled our team’s efforts to pivot to online programs and campaigns, reducing barriers of entry to our organization during the pandemic.

With the support of the Miami Foundation and our community, we launched a virtual 1,000 Eyes on the Water training in 2020, rolled out an integrated advocacy campaign, Stop Septic Pollution, and implemented new science-based legislation with our municipal partners to protect and restore our waters. Building off of this momentum, we anticipate another year of partnerships and positive change for our watershed in 2021.


For more information on this year’s Community Grants program funding priorities and to apply, visit Ideas are due by February 26.


Chelsea Clark is the programs associate at The Miami Foundation.

Pictured: Miami Waterkeeper provides educational opportunities to engage the community on our local environmental issues.

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