The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


July 7, 2012

Susquehanna acquires an advocate

NORTHUMBERLAND —  As a teenager and young adult, Carol Parenzan Smalley paddled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles on the Susquehanna River, admiring its beauty, transfixed by its strength and majesty.

Now she is standing up to protect a stretch of river that has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months over revelations about water quality and its effect on aquatic life.

Smalley will serve as the first Susquehanna riverkeeper, representing the stretch of the river starting in Sunbury and heading north to the New York border and west to the Alleghenies.

Michael Helfrick is the Lower Susquehanna riverkeeper. His territory begins at the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam at Sunbury and continues to the Maryland line.  

“This is the first time I’ve been a riverkeeper, but I’ve wanted to do this for 20 years,” Smalley said Thursday night.

Becoming a riverkeeper is an exercise in passion and persistence.

Smalley said she approached the nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance, which is the international umbrella organization that oversees waterkeepers around the world. It is led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The alliance provides a way for communities to stand up for their right to clean water and for the wise and equitable use of water resources, locally and globally, Smalley said.

“I went through the proposal process, beginning this past January. And I was approved this May,” she said. “There are 200 waterkeepers around the world and 19 that represent the Chesapeake Bay. I am number 19, and cover the farthest north of any of the 19.”

Part of the approval process is recognizing that a watershed has an issue or issues and then presenting a lengthy proposal on what those issues are and how they can be addressed.

“You then present the proposal to a committee,” Smalley said, “which either approves or disapprove it. It then goes on to the executive committee, which Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the president of. And they sign off on it. For me, the process took about five months.”

Smalley’s major concerns are natural gas exploration. “I hate to say hydro fracking because in New York State, hydro fracking has been replaced with fracking with propane. It’s a loophole. I also have concerns with piping. The new pipelines are troubling. Disastrous. We need someone to watch that. There are also the issues of fish and wildlife concerns. Black spots on smallmouth bass. And mercury toxicity issues.”

Another issue, she said, is abandoned mine drainage.

Her vision of the waterkeeper movement is for fishable, swimmable and drinkable waterways.

Smalley said that this job is a sort of homecoming.

“The river was calling me home to take care of it,” she said. “She needs somebody to watch over her. It’s more of a calling than anything else.”

Many riverkeepers are attorneys who specialize in environmental law.

“I am probably one of the few that is not an attorney,” Smalley said. “My degree is in environmental engineering with a focus on water. So it was a natural fit, especially with my love of paddling, my love of water. And Pennsylvania is my home, and I wanted to come back to it.

Smalley will watch over about 220 miles of the river and all the tributaries; in all, about 12,000 square miles.

“So I’m going to need some help,” she said, laughing.

If you want to find me, she said, “Look in the water. If I’m not there I’m on it or around it.”

Born in Hershey, Smalley earned an environmental engineering degree with the focus on water with honors from Penn State. As a college student, she interned with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

She lives in the Adirondacks, but her family roots extend into the coal region, Shamokin, and watershed she will serve.

Smalley’s career has included organizational start-ups and expansions, technical communications and engineering consulting. Her work has included river restoration, dam removal, fish runs/ladders, environmental/navigational dredging, estuary/coastal remediation, invasive species, current flow analysis, underground storage tank and subsurface utilities investigation, environmental site remediation, sedimentation sampling, flood zone management, environmental law, water/wastewater/stormwater management, wetland delineation/management/rehabilitation and brownfield and waterfront development.

She also considers herself an educator.

She created more than 30 programs for The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, including several with environmental themes. She has developed and presented a wide range of environmental programs to children and adults, including “SPLASH! into New York State Water Science,” “Grow Your Green Esteem,” and “Hoo Cares? Saving Endangered Animals and Plants through Story.”

Smalley will be creating a nonprofit organization to support the efforts of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper.

“I need funding,” she said. “I need an office. A place to live in the Lewisburg area. I can’t wait to get started full time on the job.”

For more information, contact her at or 570-250-9503.

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