Emily Sutton

Haw Riverkeeper

For Emily Sutton, being a part of the Waterkeepers Carolina organization as the Haw Riverkeeper allows her to be in her happy place: a boat. She went to school at Appalachian State in Boone, NC for a B.A in Sustainable Development. Growing up paddling on rivers, Sutton was naturally drawn to watershed ecology.


As a riverkeeper, she acts as the "boots on the ground" when it comes to battling water pollution in North Carolina waterways. In conjunction with other riverkeepers across the state, she works to monitor sediment and industrial animal operation pollution. They also help build legal cases against major polluters to present to the state to hold them responsiblefor their actions. If the state does not follow through with holding polluters accountable, the Riverkeepers then work with the Southern Environmental Law Center to ensure that the Clean Water Act is being enforced by the state.


Her consistent monitoring of water quality for indicators of pollution also means that she has seen the effects of climate change on North Carolina waterways. When asked about the changes she has seen in the Haw watershed, Sutton remarked "the Haw is a very flashy watershed, which means that the flows change dramatically." When it storms, the streams and rivers are prone to flash flooding, and they become inundated with sediment and the velocity of water increases. Sutton states that what they're seeing is an increase in the number of intense rainstorms that are resulting in this flash flooding with longer periods of drought in between the storms.


Sutton claims that a huge aspect of climate resiliency in North Carolina will be preparing for a continued increase in these intense rainstorms that result in flooding. In order to prepare for the impacts of these floods, stormwater designs need to be reevaluated to rechannel or recirculate water, rather than retain it. Green stormwater infrastructure could also be used to minimize the impacts of stormwater runoff.


When asked what we could do to help protect North Carolina waterways, Sutton stated that the best way to protect North Carolina waterways is to get involved with organizations that protect our water resources by volunteering, becoming a member, or donating. Sutton states,"We [the Riverkeepers] write comment letters, we contact the legislators to have stronger water quality standards, and we need your help."

Emily Sutton