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Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation Hires New Executive Director

Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation Hires New Executive Director

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has hired Emilee Syrewicze to serve as its new Executive Director. Emilee will begin work on April 15. Rick Gaskins, the long-time Executive Director for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will be leaving the organization in June.

Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation Hires New Executive Director

Emilee Syrewicze

CRF Board Chair, Bill White stated that “While we are sad to see Rick leave CRF, we are excited about the ideas and energy that Emilee will bring to the organization.  CRF is poised to grow, and Emilee is the right person lead CRF into a new era.”

Emilee has a degree in environmental law from Vermont Law School and currently serves as the Executive Director of a non-profit in Traverse City, Michigan.   She attended Alma College and received her BA in political science.  During her time at Alma, Emilee concentrated on chemistry and environmental policy, spending a spring term in China writing a thesis on Chinese water policy and development.  She then attended Vermont Law School and received her JD in with a focus on nonprofit and environmental law/policy.  Working at the Center for Environmental Law and Policy in Spokane, Washington, fostered her interest in nonprofit administration and policy.  Currently, Emilee is the Executive Director of the Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing (NMSH) in Traverse City MI, an organization that provides permanent supportive housing to homeless individuals and families with severe mental illness in Northwest Michigan and has one of the highest success rates in the United States.  She currently sits as Vice President of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) in Lansing, Chair of the Greater Grand Traverse Continuum of Care, board trustee of the Torch Lake Conservation Center, and is active in the Traverse City Rotary Club.   In 2014, Emilee was recognized by the Traverse City Business News as one of the 40 most influential people under 40 in Northwest Michigan. 

“I have a passion for environmental conservation issues and I am excited about working for an organization that is on the leading edge of so many environmental issues,” said Emilee Syrewicze.  “Many people probably do not realize that the Catawba-Wateree River basin has become the poster child for many issues such as coal ash, storm water pollution, water shortages, sprawl, and water planning.”

Emilee will have big shoes to fill.  Rick Gaskins began doing volunteer work for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation shortly after it was founded in 1998 and has served the organization in a variety of capacities including attorney, Board Chair, Catawba Riverkeeper, and Executive Director.  During that time, CRF was successful in a wide range of initiatives including establishing a summer youth kayaking program, settlement of a proposed inter-basin water transfer in way that created a model for water conservation, litigation victories that resulted changes that reduced pollution from a variety of sources.

Rick Gaskins on Mountain Island LakeSpecifically, during the time that Rick has been at the helm, CRF successes included:

  • Settlement of the inter-basin transfer (IBT) litigation to encourage Concord and Kannapolis to conserve and reuse water rather than to transfer water from the Catawba basin to the Yadkin basin (this settlement has been so successful that Concord and Kannapolis have been able to grow while taking almost no water from the Catawba basin);
  • Fish tissue sampling that led the issuance of fish advisories for PCBs in fish;
  • Changes to the Tega Cay sewage permit that ultimately required upgrades and eventually led to the transfer of the sewage operations to the town of Tega Cay;
  • Successful litigation against SCE&G over a leaking coal ash pond on the Wateree River, which led to a settlement that required SCE&G to adopt a dry ash handling system, to recycle more coal ash, and to clean up its existing coal ash pond;
  • A recent court victory in the Garden Parkway case that will require North Carolina to fully consider the impact of the project on Lake Wylie and local waterways;
  • Testing and advocacy that prompted legislation about coal ash, and pending lawsuits regarding all of the coal ash ponds operated by Duke Energy in North Carolina, and will ultimately lead to the reduction of the threat posed to our drinking water by coal ash ponds;
  • The creation of the Muddy Water Watch program (through funding from the Women’s Impact Fund), which trained hundreds of new volunteers to work with local and state enforcement staff to monitor and report sedimentation problems; and
  • Expansion of CRF’s environmental education program in the schools and creation of a summer youth kayaking program that has exposed thousands of youth to hands on science and the wonders of the rivers and streams in the basin.

 As Rick is quick to point out, these successes were the result of hard work of a dedicated team of individuals including volunteers, CRF staff, board members, funders and especially volunteer lawyers who represented CRF in several lawsuits to successfully enforce the environmental laws.  Rick says that he has been fortunate to work with some excellent Riverkeepers including Donna Lisenby, David Merryman and the current Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins. 

Sam Takes Sample

Rick observed that “most people have no idea how hard our Riverkeeper, staff, and volunteers work to protect the water in the Catawba-Wateree basin.”  Sam Perkins has been the Catawba Riverkeeper since July 2013, and he will work closely with Emilee and CRF volunteers to continue and expand the work of the organization.

Bill White commented that “The Board is extremely grateful to Rick for his many years of service to CRF both as a volunteer, Catawba Riverkeeper and Executive Director.  We wish Rick well in his new adventures.  He has earned a break.”  Rick will be moving to France for a year with his family.  While in Europe, Rick is hoping to work with conservation organizations, to spend a lot of time on the Maine and Loire Rivers, and to bicycle the route of the Tour de France.  (He previously bicycled across the United States and Turkey.)

CRF will be having an event to celebrate Emilee’s arrival and thank Rick for his service from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on May 16, at the UNCC Center City Campus.  The public is invited.  Information about obtaining tickets for the event is available on the Catawba Riverkeeper website ( 

Download PDF version of announcement here.

Contact:           Rick Gaskins (704-408-3487

                        Diana Daniels (704-679-9494)

                        Emilee Syrewicze (231-388-2610)


About the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a nonprofit organization with members in South and North Carolina that works to protect and restore the Catawba/Wateree River and its watershed.




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Click here to fill out a pollution reportor to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)

715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559