Susan Seacrest shares the Heinz Award in the Environment for her efforts as the driving force behind improving the health of our groundwater.
Embedded in the local news of small town newspapers around the country are short but proud stories about having received designation as a Groundwater Guardian by the Groundwater Foundation. Susan Seacrest's name is rarely, if ever, mentioned, but the work that she began in her kitchen 22 years ago has meandered its way around the country like water flowing through an aquifer. Her influence has been felt both nationally and internationally through programs that have been replicated in more than 200 communities throughout the world.
A Nebraska homemaker, Ms. Seacrest's unintended diversion into the realm of environmentalism began in 1985 when her infant son's digestive illness alerted her to the dangers of environmental toxins. A researcher at the University of Nebraska challenged her to learn all she could about groundwater. What she discovered moved her to found the Groundwater Foundation, an organization that for more than a generation has been a driving force in improving the health of the nation's groundwater. Through non-political advocacy that emphasizes education and leverages the power of personal relationships, the Groundwater Foundation has helped bring about a wave of reform, not only through the enactment of new laws but by eliciting voluntary changes in behavior by those involved in groundwater contamination.
Ms. Seacrest has pulled together a unique alliance of interests, including irrigators, well drillers, scientists, cities, government agencies and industries - all for the purpose of protecting groundwater. Through her education programs, Ms. Seacrest is preparing future generations of citizens to protect one of the earth's most important natural resources - a resource that needs a voice and one that is the lifeblood of our existence.
The Groundwater Foundation worked with farmers and natural resources organizations to educate a large cross section of the public about the need to reduce nitrate levels in Nebraska's Central Platte River Basin to safe levels. As nitrate levels in the fell, the foundation's grassroots efforts quickly grew beyond the state's borders. The Groundwater Foundation's Groundwater Guardian program, which encourages citizen involvement in groundwater protection at the local level, has spread to 165 communities in 35 states and Canada.
Ms. Seacrest's expertise in groundwater education earned her an appointment to the Children's Health Protection Advisory Council, two terms on the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and keynote speaking appearances around the world, including at the United Nations.
Self-educated on the issue of groundwater, Susan Seacrest has created a groundswell of knowledge about an issue that literally affects everyone on our planet, blazing a path of advocacy that is engaging, creative, collaborative and, perhaps most of all, persistent. Her achievements in bringing about reforms have improved the health of one of our most fragile natural assets and the vitality of our planet.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
April 2008 - Seacrest receives the Friend of Science Award from the Nebraska Academy of Sciences. - Nebraska Academy of Sciences
December 2007 - Retiring from her duties as President of the Groundwater Foundation, Seacrest is pursuing a career as a secondary school guidance counselor and teacher. - Omaha World-Herald
10/22/2007 - Acceptance Speech
It's a great honor to be here tonight. I am very humbled as I said in the introductory segment to be amongst such distinguished and amazing people. And in fact just today, just to hear them talk of their work and to learn more about what we are all involved with has been energizing and inspiring almost beyond words. The inspiration for me actually began before I arrived in Pittsburgh, because after Mrs. Heinz called, and I too was flabbergasted, I decided that I would take the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the work of Senator John Heinz and that was very inspiring and rewarding for me. And because I have a bit of a groundwater outlook, when I came across some words that Mrs. Heinz wrote many years ago I was reminded of groundwater. She wrote:
"... John believed that progress is the product of countless individual actions and that every one counts. He knew the business of changing the world was a slow and painstaking process, yet he never tired of it."
And that reminded me of groundwater because groundwater moves slowly, but it moves inexorably, progress is slow with groundwater and as a result I have had the privilege of working with amazing people. Jay Beaumont one of our champion groundwater guardians is here tonight. People of faith and character, I often say there are no cheap thrills in groundwater protection, people have to keep their eye on the future and I know after meeting my fellow honorees that we all keep our eye on the future and celebrate that human spirit of Senator Heinz. Believe it or not there's even a groundwater folk singer and he came out to the festival, when we were celebrating 10 years and sang about ground water, his song was called "Water from Another Time." And when I was listening to it a few weeks ago, I decided I just share one part of that song with you tonight because I think it applies to all of us and the work we do:
"It doesn't take much but you got to have some - the old ways help the new ways come. Leave a little extra for the next in line - we're going to need a little water from another time."
Each one of us, not just the honorees, but everybody in this room has the power to leave a little extra for the next in line and when we do so we'll be passing along the legacy of Senator John Heinz in our own unique ways.
Thank you very, very much.