BROADWAY — As a teenager, Liz Crosson contrasted her suburban lifestyle in Northern California with back country adventures in the wilderness.

She still remembers her first backpacking trip to the Central Coast of California during her time as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Surrounded by redwood trees, Crosson came to a new understanding.

“The wilderness was important for my own happiness,” she said. “I realized how little we have left.”

This realization has driven Crosson’s entire career arc, starting with her work in nonprofit organizations, to environmental law and finally to her role as executive director of the Santa Monica Baykeeper, a position she’s held for the past two years.

“It’s important to have access to clean water and clean air,” she said. “We want to stop pollution from entering the bay.”

Established in 1993, the Santa Monica Baykeeper is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the waters of the Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and other adjacent waters throughout Los Angeles County. The group also works on environmental advocacy and education — a mission they take seriously.

“People don’t realize what pollutes the bay,” said Tami Clark, chair of the Board of Directors for Baykeeper. “They have no idea this is going on.”

As part of this outreach mission, Baykeeper will host the first annual SPLASH Stand Up for Clean Water paddleboard race and festival on Saturday. Hosted in conjunction with the Waterkeeper Alliance, the event will celebrate Earth Day and the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Crosson said. Activities will include stand-up paddleboarding lessons, paddleboard yoga and a beach cleanup, in addition to a speech by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, president and founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

“This event is the best way for people to get in touch with their waterway … especially in such an urban area as Los Angeles,” said Pete Nichols, western regional director for the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is the umbrella organization over the Santa Monica Baykeeper. “It’s easy to forget that clean water is a central component of healthy communities.”

Crosson will be out on the water, too. Her hobbies haven’t changed much since her college days, as she still enjoys outdoor activities, like paddleboarding, in her spare time.

“I want people to splash around and enjoy the water,” she said. “It’s all about learning about stormwater pollution and how far we’ve come.”

Under Crosson’s leadership, the Santa Monica Baykeeper has directed their priorities and increased their focus on holding cities accountable for their pollution. The organization has also boosted collaboration with other groups, like Heal the Bay, Clark said.

While her previous experience with litigation and environmental advocacy gives her technical capability, it is her natural initiative that propels her success in this position, Nichols said.

“She knows in her moral fiber what she believes in and she will do everything to protect the environment,” he said. “It can oftentimes be daunting or lonely to be the waterkeeper — the waterkeeper is the voice of the waterway and it takes an individual with a strong constitution to do that and Liz certainly fits the bill.”

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