Celebrating 20 years!

Since our founding in 2004, WaterWays has grown from a small student environmental association to an international organization focused on watershed health and restoration. 

Our Founding Story

In early 2004, a conversation between Mary Beth Sutton and Rick Ector, president of the Tennesse Valley Infrastructure Group (TVIG) opened the door for the founding of the Caribbean Student Environmental Alliance (SEA). TVIG, a local wind power company, was operating globally when they experienced some negative community feedback in Honduras. With initial support from TVIG, Mary Beth began researching pathways for community outreach and collaboration.

After connecting with Caribbean utility networks, Mary Beth was on the ground in St Lucia, where local sponsors assisted in kick-starting Caribbean SEA environmental programming, which began at Ciceron Secondary School. Caribbean SEA was officially chartered on April 29th, 2004. Mary Beth continued for the next five years to make an impact in the Caribbean by hosting environmental teacher workshops and summer camps and tackling local water quality issues related to sewage and agricultural runoff. Her hands-on and community empowerment approach enabled students and community members to work together towards the common goals of clean and healthy waterways.

After achieving success with our programs and projects in the Caribbean, the organization was asked to replicate those watershed education and restoration efforts in the southeastern United States. This prompted a rebrand of the organization to WaterWays to better represent our organization’s focus and international presence. Since our founding in 2004, our WaterWays has grown from a small student alliance to an international organization focused on watershed health and restoration.

Our collective mission is to empower community members to make a positive impact in the waterways where they live, work, and play.

Thanks to our founding sponsors, Saint Lucia Electricity Service Ltd, Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation, and TVIG, various environmental education and restoration programs began in St. Lucia, followed quickly by school-based programs in Dominica sponsored by Domlec, and teacher workshops in Curaçao with partner Lee’s Reef Project. Initiatives also included watershed exploration and protection, teacher training, student camps, and building constructed wetlands for sewage treatment. Collaborations with schools and organizations aimed to educate and empower communities in watershed conservation efforts.

After successful programs in the Caribbean, Caribbean SEA expanded its footprint to the Southeastern United States, developing Kids 4 Clean Water Camps in Chattanooga to educate children about creek protection while enjoying the outdoors.

In the Caribbean, we hired our first ever Program Director, which has led to full time staff in St. Lucia ever since. Our programs grew, including beginning SEA Creatures Environmental Clubs at schools and facilitating the beginning of Kids for Coral in St Lucia, which began in Curaçao and led to being featured in Vogue magazine thanks to the sponsorship of Lucian model Shala Monroque. Caribbean SEA constructed a biogas digester at a Mabouya Valley farm to reduce pig waste from entering the stream. Thanks to the Chattanooga Breakfast Rotary Club we also installed a small constructed wetland for treatment of sewage from several households in Aux Leon, St Lucia. Curaçao teacher workshops and student programs continued. We assisted with programs in the Dominican Republic for fisherfolk and students and initiated a Kids 4 Clean Water Camp in San Mateo, Belize. In Dominica, we continued student programming and worked with many partners, including and funded by the Rotary Clubs of Dominica and Conyers, GA, to repair a public toilet and install a constructed wetland to treat the sewage. Programming in the Chattanooga area began to increase with environmental education for Calvin Donaldson Elementary School and Scenic Land School as well as our summer camps. We were awarded an education and green infrastructure grant and installed our first school rain garden at Thrasher Elementary School and worked with Four Squares Office Complex owner, Major General Bill Raines and Scenic Land School to construct a stormwater wetland in the parking lot of the offices. Recently retired USMC Sgt Major Chris Calhoun helped start our outdoor gear resale shop, The Gear Closet, which has been providing funds for protecting our water ever since! We began work with Red Bank Elementary School and partners Komatsu and UTC’s Outdoor Education Program (is that the right name?) to help develop trails and outdoor programming for the school’s Forest Kindergarten and outdoor education programs.

The Healthy Watershed Initiative in Chattanooga engaged various stakeholders in a concerted effort to mitigate the impacts of excess stormwater on Mountain Creek, which focused on repairing the stream bank at Red Bank Elementary School. This partnership project was spearheaded by Adam Pierce from our recently established Young Professionals Board. The Red Bank Elementary “Stream Team” met with engineers and helped design the project. Caribbean SEA became a partner in the UN Funded IWECO: Integrating Water and Land and Ecosystems Management in the Caribbean Basin project, amplifying conservation efforts in the region. St Lucia projects included organic gardening and greenhouses for schools in the Soufriere basin as well as construction of biogas digesters for pig farmers as well as many school clubs and our annual Rainforest to Reef camp as we completed our first UN grant and GIZ grant. Closer to home, the My Tennessee: Clean Water Starts Here Award Program (now called RainSmart Yards)for homeowners began as a pilot program, generously supported by the Lyndhurst Foundation and developed in collaboration with the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County Stormwater programs. The Adopt-A-Waterway program was implemented in the TN region, bolstering environmental stewardship across the region. Reflecting a commitment to broader impact, the organization underwent an official rebranding as WaterWays in Tennessee, aimed at increasing the visibility of its initiatives on a global scale.

WaterWays secured a Conservation Fund grant funded through VW Chattanooga, leading to the construction of an outdoor classroom and education area in Enterprise South Nature Park in Chattanooga. In 2022, WaterWays welcomed over 1,500 students to our Outdoor Classroom while also engaging with every Hamilton County elementary school to foster a deeper appreciation for nature.

In 2021, WaterWays took over the coordination of the Tennessee River Rescue, a venerable tradition now in its 35th year. Testament to our collective impact, over 1,000 dedicated volunteers spanning six counties across three states rallied together to extract a staggering 10 tons of litter from the Tennessee River Watershed Basin in 2023. Thanks to national grants, we were able to continue our education and conservation endeavors within the Chattanooga Creek Watershed, including the installation of the Chattanooga Creek litter boom, which has proven successful, enabling the removal of over 3,000 pounds of floating debris since its installation in May 2023, protecting the Tennessee River from the litter epidemic. Plans are now underway to install a litter boomin St. Lucia in the summer of 2024.

Following the US headquarters of WaterWays, Caribbean SEA underwent a transformative rebranding as WaterWays -Caribbean. Our dedication to ecosystem restoration is shown by the establishment of four mine remediation wetlands on Signal Mountain and the installation of over 300 live stakes along Reads Creek, rejuvenating 680 feet of stream bank. Moreover, our commitment to biodiversity preservation culminated in the founding of the Wild Plant Rescue, safeguarding native plants from encroaching development. Our triumphs in sustainability included consecutive victories in the Nooga-Knox Rain Smart Yard competition!

In the past year, we’ve engaged in meaningful interactions with over 5,350 students from more than 40 Hamilton County schools while orchestrating enriching park field trips with 1,834 participants. Finally, we are proud to have reconnected with our partners in Belize, opening the door to mangrove restoration efforts and education opportunities with local university students in 2024.

Sharing Our 2023 Achievements

Thanks to your support, we have accomplished so much this past year! Here are just a few of our proudest achievements:

  • The installation of the Chattanooga Creek litter boom has helped us collect over 2,000 lbs. of floating litter since May of this year, protecting vital resources such as the Tennessee River.

  • Our efforts to restore ecosystems have included the creation of four remediation wetlands on Signal Mountain and the installation of over 300 live stakes on Reads Creek, restoring 680 ft of stream bank.

  • In addition to our environmental efforts, we have also made great strides in education. This past year, we met in person with over 5,350 students from more than 40 Hamilton County schools, and 1,834 students took part in local park field trips.

  • Our annual Tennessee River Rescue event was a great success, with over 1,000 volunteers from six counties across three states collecting over 10 tons of trash from the Tennessee River Watershed basin.

  • Finally, we are proud to have reconnected with our partners in Belize, opening the door to mangrove restoration efforts and education opportunities with local university students in 2024.

We are looking for donors to pledge $20 a month in honor for our Anniversary year! Consider a recurring donation to WaterWays this year!