For the first time in history, the Dan River Basin will have a riverkeeper to protect its main waterway and tributaries.

With support from the citizens group Good Stewards of Rockingham County, 33-year-old Steven Pulliam steps in as Dan Riverkeeper — the top watchdog for a volunteer group by the same name dedicated to protecting the water sources within a 16-county region.

Pulliam’s water quality guardianship will focus on the Dan, as well as the Smith, Mayo, Sandy, Bannister and Hyco rivers — all major tributaries that flow into the mighty Dan.

Members of Good Stewards began plans to create the position in 2018 after discussions about how to better protect and restore local waterways.

Dan Riverkeeper was accepted by the international conservation group Global Waterkeeper Alliance in June.

Pulliam, a Rockingham County native, became active in conservation efforts after his family returned home to Stoneville from Vero Beach, Florida, in 2015.

Living off-grid in a solar-powered camper, Pulliam and his family became active in local conservation efforts after parking their home at Dan River Campground in Stoneville and meeting Good Stewards founder and campground owner Glenn Bozorth.

Pulliam’s passion for protecting and advocating for conservation bloomed in recent years, prompting him to speak out publicly on numerous local environmental issues.

“Nobody else was doing it and I saw a need,” said Pulliam, discussing his new role. “We’ve lived places all over the East Coast and everything is so industrialized and polluted that you can’t enjoy the water, you can’t eat the fish or breathe the air off the ocean. We can leave those places and come home — this is our home and we’re not leaving here. There is a need for the projects that we are working on, a need for the group and a need for the position.”

Pulliam said the Riverkeeper’s focus is water quality testing, advocacy for watershed improvements and finding solutions to prevent chemical intake and runoffs.

“We’ll also look at sedimentation, turbidity, protecting our wildlife and protecting our future of tourism and the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Pulliam.

“We want to work hand-in-hand with everyone else to get it accomplished. There is no plan to attack or sue or anything like that to improve the watershed — I think we are in a good position with our neighbors and our communities to work together and improve our quality.”

Pulliam said one of the first goals of the organization is to start water quality testing in order to build an independent and thorough database. He plans to start with a 72-mile stretch of the Dan that flows from Danbury to South Boston, Virginia.

“With all the issues we’ve had with discharge and run-offs, we are trying to identify the turbidity, the bromide content and all the specific analytes that are in the water and the chemicals that shouldn’t be there that aren’t occurring naturally,” Pulliam stated.

Pulliam stressed the public database testing will be independent, not funded by interest groups, industry, or companies that could potentially have conflicts of interest.

In the upcoming year, the group hopes to provide data for individuals, volunteers, and groups that want to help protect their local water sources.

They also hope to build a highly detailed map to help identify pollution problems.

“It’s a ground-up, from scratch group and database and it’s going to be a state-of-the-art program that we are working on,” said Pulliam, following an inaugural Dan Riverkeeper kayak float on its namesake waterway last Sunday. “…There shouldn’t be anything that we need to hide or want to hide when it comes to the health of our people, our river and our wildlife.”

Jenny Edwards is a program manager for the Dan River Basin Association, an organization that promotes and protects the Dan River Basin.

The recreation enthusiast, who has played an integral role in trail and water usage growth throughout the area, shared support for Pulliam and his role monitoring water quality.

“Steven is super smart. … He retains information like a sponge and he’s analytical,” Edwards said. “It’s been my experience that anything Steven says about the river is accurate.”

Following the Sunday kayak run, Edwards shared the importance of having citizen representatives like the Dan Riverkeeper monitoring cherished waterways.

“We probably passed 150 tubers when we went down the river today,” Edwards said. “These are folks that are coming out with their family and their extended family. They are right there in the water, getting water in their eyes, in their mouth and in their ears and they have their little kids out there. You want to make sure that the water is of good quality and a swimmable river for these families coming out. It’s really super important for our local families and it’s also really important because it’s a major drinking water resource,” Edwards said.

“We are really looking to make it a grassroots constituency,” said Pulliam after a full morning ‘yaking the Dan with friends and fellow river stewards.

“… No matter what divides we have on the political or religious spectrum, we all need water to live, we all need access to clean water, and we all deserve it — regardless of socioeconomics, age or neighborhood,” Pulliam said.

“I think as a community and a region, as we work together with a reasonable approach, we can do great things and it can only improve every aspect of our lives.”

For more information about the Dan Riverkeeper, including how to become a member or donate to the cause, visit http://danriverkeeper.org.

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Joe Dexter is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. He can be reached at 336-349-4331 ext. 6139 or @JoeDexter_RCN on Twitter.

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