Chad Pregracke is the President and Founder of Living Lands & Waters (LL&W), the world’s only “industrial strength” not-for-profit river cleanup organization. Chad formed LL&W at the youthful age of 23, after spending his life growing up and working on the Mississippi River. Early on, he became appalled by the amount of garbage in the river and decided that if no one else was going to do something about it, he would.
Over the last 15 years, he, his crew, and 70,000 volunteers have removed 7 million pounds of garbage out of our nation’s rivers. He’s also broadened his mission to include a MillionTrees and an Adopt-A-River Mile Project, as well as a new floating classroom aboard a barge that he and his crew live on 7 months of the year, teaching students, educators and individual citizens about the value of our rivers and natural resources.
Cleaning up the Mississippi River One Refrigerator, One Sink, One Tire at a Time
Seven million pounds of garbage – 961 refrigerators, 143 sinks, 67,000 tires, 3,700 55-gallon barrels, 63 messages in bottles and much, much more. That’s how much trash Chad Pregracke and his organization have dredged up from the Mississippi and 16 other major rivers over the past 15 years.
This dedicated river champion has been featured on CNN, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, ABC, CBS and NBC. He was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service, a prize that is considered the U.S. equivalent of the Nobel Prize for public service.
He was also cited as a Point of Light, a designation created by former President George H.W. Bush. Former President Jimmy Carter introduced him at the ceremony celebrating his accomplishments. (A video of the event can be seen on YouTube: Points of Light Institute Tribute – Chad Pregracke.)
Speaker at National Environmental Summit
Pregracke will talk about his passion to clean up the Mississippi and what it takes to make a difference in the world at the National Environmental Summit for High School Students in July at Catawba College. A collaborative venture of the Center for the Environment at Catawba and Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, the summit is designed to help students from across the country learn how they can use their talents to effect positive change in the world.
Pregracke’s epic voyage into river clean-up started when he was 17 years old. He worked as a shell diver in the Mississippi River near his home in Hampton, Ill., to earn money for college. Returning home one evening in his boat, he saw a huge pile of barrels near yachts that were moored at a marina. “The barrels had been sitting there for 50-60 years, and I got sick of seeing it,” Pegracke says.
“I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who doesn’t like seeing that. I want to change it.’”
That decision catapulted the teenager into his life’s work. Pregracke founded Living Lands & Waters, a non-profit environmental organization, in 1997. He now oversees an organization with 12 full-time staff, six work boats, four barges, two tugboats, a crane, a fleet of trucks and an annual operating budget of $1.6 million.
Over the 15 years, more than 70,000 volunteers have participated in 740 river clean-ups. The organization also plants trees and conducts educational workshops. “We will have given away or planted 500,000 trees by Earth Day this year,” he says.