Linda Green came to Rhode Island in the 1970s from just outside the Bronx to enroll at the University of Rhode Island. After having spent most of her teenage years sailing in Long Island Sound and watching Jacques Cousteau on television, she was determined to become an oceanographer. But as a sophomore she fell in love with soil science, a discipline she never knew even existed before then and one she said made her “look at dirt in a whole different way.”
She spent the rest of her undergraduate career working in a soils lab and later became the first female soil scientist in the state of Pennsylvania when she went to work for the Soil Conservation Service. It was a job she said nearly killed her, because soil scientists spend a great deal of time digging holes, and the soils in Pennsylvania are mostly clay, so it was backbreaking work. But she soon returned to URI to work as a lab technician and eventually migrated to work in the lab of Art Gold, who was creating what became Watershed Watch, a volunteer water quality monitoring program that Linda would lead for nearly three decades. She admits she knew nothing about monitoring water quality when she took the job, but today she is a national leader on the subject.
Linda and colleague Elizabeth Herron have recruited, trained and mentored with more than 1,200 volunteers through the years to monitor the water quality in more than 200 lakes, ponds and streams in Rhode Island, working in collaboration with numerous community groups and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The water quality information collected by their volunteers is used by conservation organizations, policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that improve and protect the health of local waters. And the Rhode Island Health Department uses that data to study the connection between increased water temperatures and the health of Rhode Islanders.
But Linda’s influence is felt far beyond Rhode Island’s borders. As the leader of one of the first volunteer water quality monitoring programs in the country, she provided guidance to numerous other organizations initiating similar programs throughout the United States, as well as in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. She has also held leadership roles in several national water quality monitoring initiatives and speaks regularly at local and national conferences on the subject. She was recently even asked by the Environmental Protection Agency to help it establish a volunteer air quality monitoring program.
Through her work with Watershed Watch, Linda has made significant contributions to advancing scientific knowledge of Rhode Island’s freshwater ecosystems and enhanced public awareness of the state’s aquatic systems and the factors that affect them. She also serves as secretary of the South Kingstown Land Trust.
Although she is far from the end of her career, Linda has already left a lasting legacy of hundreds of ordinary Rhode Islanders who now know much more about their nearby water bodies than anyone else on Earth; people who have developed a greater appreciation for their local pond or stream and who are more willing to defend it, protect it and monitor it through all kinds of weather; and thousands of volunteer water quality monitors around the country who have participated in programs that were established with Linda’s guidance.
For these reasons and more, it is with great pleasure that Linda Green is presented with the Rhode Island Natural History Survey’s 2015 Rhode Island Distinguished Naturalist Award.