When local novelist Joan Mauch first came across the term “waterkeeper” while reading an article in the Moline Dispatch, she was intrigued. The article featured Art Norris, who was identified as the Quad-Cities’ waterkeeper. “The term puzzled me as I had never heard it before,” she recalls. “We had our very own waterkeeper? And what exactly was he doing with our water? To me it sounded a bit odd.”
For someone who spends much of her time thinking about story, Mauch couldn’t help but want to learn more, so she started digging. What she uncovered ultimately prompted her latest novel, “The Waterkeeper’s Daughter,” published last November.
The term “waterkeeper” refers to an organization affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization that unites almost 200 independent nonprofits funded by donations and grants. Ultimately, the purpose of the New York-based Water Keeper Alliance is to ensure that a community’s right to clean water is upheld.
Marc Yaggi, director of global programs for the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, says waterkeepers wear a lot of hats including those of scientist, investigator and community advocate. According to its website, the alliance supports and empowers members to protect communities, ecosystems and water quality all over the globe.
As Norris describes it, his role in the Waterkeeper Alliance is to be the eyes and ears of the Mississippi River. He founded the Quad-Cities Waterkeeper in 2009 and keeps an office in the Harbor View building in Davenport. His duties include looking for water pollution issues — specifically those that impact the Mississippi from Clinton to Muscatine or any part of the Rock River — and finding ways to address the problems.
Norris believes the general public needs waterkeepers to oversee what official regulators are allowing. “Illinois has four of the most polluted rivers in the nation. Iowa has 624 lakes, rivers and streams unfit for human use. To me it’s about leaving a better place for our children. They won’t have much of a chance if we don’t change this,” he says, referring to problems such as the increasing amount of mercury and other chemicals in our water supply.
Mauch contacted Norris and learned, to her dismay, that regulatory authorities weren’t always protecting our drinking water. “He said that in many cases they actually aid in covering up the polluter. It’s all about money,” she recalls. Norris expresses concern about pollution caused by continental companies and the lack of follow-through by those tasked with protecting the public.
“The Waterkeeper’s Daughter” is a novel filled with mystery, revenge, and reconciliation, along with a brief look at the state of our nation’s waterways. These themes also have been present Norris’ life. One question Mauch asked Norris during her research was whether or not being a waterkeeper was dangerous. Norris shared that he’d been attacked and threatened many times due to his work. “We risk our lives to save our rivers. It’s sad it has to be this way,” he says, adding that perhaps Mauch’s book would bring to light some of issues he has faced as an advocate for our fresh water supply.
This is Mauch’s third novel. “People often ask me why I take on these big issues in my fiction. I tell them it’s because it’s a backdoor way to get people to think about them. They read about these issues in the newspaper or hear about them on TV, but often don’t think much more about it. My books provide another chance to get readers thinking,” she says.
Art Norris and Joan Mauch will appear in a joint presentation at the Bettendorf Library from 7 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 11. Norris will discuss the waterkeeper movement and how to get involved. Mauch will talk about writing “The Waterkeeper’s Daughter” and give a short reading.
Both print and electronic copies of “The Waterkeeper’s Daughter” can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the press website, whiskeycreekpress.com.
Leslie Klipsch is a frequent Radish contributor. Find more of her thoughts on food, family and healthy living at leslieklipsch.com.