Diane Wilson is the Director and Founder of Calhoun County Resource Watch and the Executive Director of San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper. A lifelong shrimper and fourth generation fisherwoman, she began her environmental activism after reading an Associated Press article in 1989 that listed her county—Calhoun County, Texas—as the most toxic county in the US. After watching the local fisheries collapse, she became determined to protect the region from pollution and restore the devastated marine ecosystem.
Ms. Wilson is the recipient of the esteemed 2023 Goldman Prize. The Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world, inspiring all of us to take action to protect our planet.
In December 2019, Diane Wilson won a landmark case against Formosa Plastics, one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies, for the illegal dumping of toxic plastic waste on Texas’ Gulf Coast. The $50 million settlement is the largest award in a citizen suit against an industrial polluter in the history of the US Clean Water Act. As a part of the settlement, Formosa Plastics agreed to reach “zero-discharge” of plastic waste from its Point Comfort factory, pay penalties until discharges cease, and fund remediation of affected local wetlands, beaches, and waterways.
Jay Banner, Ph.D., Director, UT Environmental Science Institute
Jay Banner’s research interests center on climate and hydrologic processes, how these processes are preserved in cave deposits, and how human activity affects the sustainability of water resources. At UT-Austin, he serves as the F. M. Bullard Professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences and directs the Environmental Science Institute. The institute’s community engagement programs include the Hot Science – Cool Talks Series. In his free time, Jay enjoys ultimate Frisbee.
Brent Bellinger, Ph.D., Aquatic Ecologist, Austin Watershed Protection Department
Brent Bellinger is an aquatic ecologist. He studies and monitors ecosystem conditions and linkages as influenced by anthropogenic activities. The goal of his research is to provide managers with enough understanding of what is driving conditions to make informed decisions that will enhance ecosystem services being provided by the aquatic environment.
Nathan Bendik, M.S., Austin Watershed Protection Department
Nathan Bendik works for the City of Austin, Texas on monitoring and conservation of the City’s three endemic Eurycea salamanders. Originally from Pennsylvania, he completed his B.S. in Biology at the Pennsylvania State University (2002) and then received an M.S. in Biology at the University of Texas at Arlington (2006). His primary research interests include ecology, natural history, and evolution of central Texas spring and cave salamanders
Adam Berglund, Water Monitoring Trainer & Coordinator, San Marcos River Foundation
Adam is a San Marcos native who grew up on and around this great river as a source of leisure; their background has been in Outdoor Recreation, Environmental Education, and Adventure Therapy from their previous pursuits before joining SMRF. They became more involved in outdoor recreation while attending Texas State University for their Bachelors in Recreation Administration: managing the Outdoor Center & Adventure Trip Program on campus, working as a backcountry guide & challenge course facilitator inside and outside of classes, and running many different paddle sport trips down this & other rivers. They also reached out to diverse populations by guiding trips, equestrian programs, and much more for troubled & incarcerated youth with the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center under licensed Adventure Therapists and counseling staff!
Justin Crow, Fish Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 2 San Marcos Aquatic Resource Center
Justin has experience in marine and freshwater biology and aquaculture systems. His work includes captive prorogation and husbandry of several federally listed amphibian and fish species. Justin’s research focuses on the environmental factors that affect aquatic animal physiology.
Ed Crowell, Author at Texas A&M University Press and Freelancer for Texas Co-op Power Magazine
Ed Crowell is a former journalist who is currently a board member at Save Barton Creek Association and author at Texas A&M University Press. Ed Crowell moved to Austin in 1977 and lived a short distance above Barton Springs where he frequently swam with his family. He worked as an editor at the Austin American-Statesman in charge of the city, state and features desks. Texas A&M University Press published his book “Barton Creek” in 2019. He spent more than two years researching the creek’s natural and political history and interviewing scientists, conservation land protectors and property owners along the 50 miles of creek. The book discusses continuing development threats upstream of Barton Springs that could endanger the health of the creek and its 109-square-mile watershed.
Sarah Donelson, Environmental Scientist
Sarah Donelson is an Environmental Scientist that works for the Watershed Protection Department’s Salamander Conservation Team. Sarah received her B.S. in Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Water Resources from the University of Vermont. Born and raised in Austin, Sarah loves working in
her hometown on the habitat management and conservation of three endemic and endangered salamander species.
Marisa Flores Gonzalez, MPA, Program Manager, Austin Water
Marisa Flores Gonzales leads the Water Resources Team at Austin Water and serves as the project manager for Water Forward, Austin's 100-year Integrated Water Resource Plan. Ms. Flores Gonzalez has eleven years of experience working in local government and utilities in multiple areas including water supply, water distribution, wastewater collection, and stormwater management planning. Ms. Flores Gonzales brings a holistic approach to water planning, with a belief in the value of community engagement and adaptive management to create a resilient and equitable future for the Austin community. Ms. Flores Gonzalez holds a B.A. in Geography and the Environment from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master's in Public Administration from Texas State University.
Harvé Franks, Program Coordinator at City of Austin's George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
Master Gardener and long-term garden educator Harvé Franks wants to pass along lessons she learned as a child at her grandparents’ farm in the historic St. John Freedmen’s Colony. “My grandfather and my grandmother were doing farm to table from the 70s into the 80s. My grandmother had a café on Airport Boulevard called Ruby’s Kitchen,” she says. In summer 2021 she joined the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center as a garden specialist. https://www.centraltexasgardener.org/2022/06/growing-community-with-gardens-harve-franks/
Nico Hauwert, Ph.D., Professional Geoscientist, Program Manager, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Austin Water
The Austin Water Balcones Canyonland's Preserve is 14,000 acres of preserve to protect forest and cave ecosystems and our water supply. Nico's Austin-area studies since 1990 included conducting the first direct groundwater tracing to discover groundwater flow across the aquifer occurs within days instead of years, the first detection of widespread groundwater contamination in the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer in 1994, and most precise measurement of recharge over the Edwards Aquifer in the Austin area using a climate tower coupled with other methods of verification. He has been involved with restoring filled caves that are widespread across the Austin area, mapping their extent, and tracing their water sources since 1979. The restored caves can serve as preserves for wildlife and can present opportunities for the public to experience their natural heritage.
Sara Heilman, M.S., Conservation Program Coordinator, Austin Watershed Protection Department
Sara Heilman is a Conservation Program Coordinator for the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department and has been working in outdoor education for over 15 years. Sara coordinates Hydrofiles, a water quality education program for Austin area high schools with field investigations including caving into the Edwards Aquifer and monitoring local creeks. She holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi and enjoys trail running, gardening, and spending time with family.
Dean Hendrickson, Ph.D., Curator of Ichthyology, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Integrative Biology
Dean Hendrickson, Ph.D. is the Curator of Ichthyology at the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Integrative Biology (Texas Natural History Collections). Dean earned his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Before moving to Austin and U.T. in the 1990s, Dean served as the Native Fish Biologist for the State of Arizona. Currently, Dr. Hendrickson works on the Fishes of Texas project, including research on American eels in Texas streams, with an emphasis on connecting science to conservation and sustainability.
Shay Hlavaty, Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Communications & Outreach Manager
With a background in environmental management and a love for communications, Shay specializes in educating and engaging communities in conservation. She has a B.S. in Environmental Conservation of Natural Resources from Texas Tech University and a Master’s of Environmental Management from Western Colorado University. Shay’s spent the last six years of her career managing marketing and communications at a variety of environmental organizations across the country. She enjoys hiking, running, cycling, camping, traveling, and hanging out with her pup, Ivy Jo.
Lindsey Holmes, Professor of Environmental Literature, Saint Edwards University
Lindsey Holmes grew up in Houston, Texas and received her Masters in English from UT Austin in 2021. As a teacher, Holmes has a passion for the environmental humanities and public education, both in and out of the classroom. As an avid open water swimmer, trail runner and mom, Holmes enjoys connecting with fellow community members over issues affecting the unique landscape of central Texas.
Karen Kocher, Professor of Practice
Lee Mackenzie, Co-Founder Austin Bat Refuge
As a carpenter, then a nationally-acclaimed design build remodeler, Lee has been humanely dealing with a variety of small mammals in structures his whole career. A wildlife worker for over 20 years, now Co-founder of Austin Bat Refuge, he creatively combines rehabilitation and permaculture, providing the highest possible quality of life in their “bat gardens”, an Austin Bat Refuge original concept and the first of its kind.
Judith McGeary, Executive Director of Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance
Judith McGeary is an attorney, activist, and sustainable farmer. After earning her Bachelors of Science from Stanford University and her law degree with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, she clerked for a Federal Appeals Court and went on to private law practice. During that time, she became a passionate advocate of sustainable agriculture, and she and her husband established their own livestock farm. After seeing how government regulations benefit industrial agriculture at the expense of family farms, she founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to promote common-sense policies for local, diversified agricultural systems. Judith has been profiled in the Texas Observer and Edible Austin, appears in the documentary Farmageddon, and has been interviewed on numerous radio shows across the country. Judith has served as the Vice Chair of the U.S. Secretary's Advisory Committee on Animal Health and is also active with Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Weston A. Price Foundation, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
Kim McKnight, MSHP, AICP, Austin Parks Department
Kim McKnight is a Program Manager at the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department and leads the Historic Preservation & Tourism Program, which seeks to identify, protect, restore and promote the historic resources of the Austin park system.
Dianne Odegard, Co-Founder, Austin Bat Refuge
After 12 1/2 years as Education and Public Outreach Manager at Bat Conservation International by day, and bat rehabilitator by night, Dianne has now gone full-time as Co-founder of Austin Bat Refuge. Dianne has been a wildlife rehabilitator since 1990, working with animals that live in close proximity to urban areas and human structures and educating people about ways to live harmoniously with wildlife. She considers bat care to be service work benefiting both bats and humans.
Eric Paulus, Director of Ecology Action
Eric Paulus is Director of Ecology Action of Texas and manages restoration projects at EA's Circle Acres Nature Preserve and the adjacent Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park. Ecology Action has spent nearly two decades converting an abandoned, toxic former City of Austin open burn landfill to a thriving nature preserve using volunteer support to work with nature to heal damaged landscapes. What was once the most polluted tract in Montopolis is today amongst the most biodiverse 10 acres anywhere in the city.
Tanya Payne, Ph.D., Rewild Zilker Park
Dr. Tanya Payne is communications for the Rewild Zilker Park group that fought the Zilker Park Vision Plan alongside other grass roots organizations. She became involved with Rewild Zilker through her role as VP of Communications for Zilker Neighborhood Association, which she volunteered for because she wanted to meet her new neighbors. Dr. Payne has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and works in High Tech. She is a life-time park lover who applied her knowledge of psychology, technology, and her years of homeroom mom experience to the biggest democratic engagement she's ever been a part of.
Gary Perez, Author & Activist
Gary Perez is an author, speaker and researcher for indigenous issues in South Texas. He is the Custodian of the Native American Church National Trust in Mirando City and Sacred Sites Director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute in San Marcos.
Alberta Phillips, Award-winning Journalist
Alberta Phillips is a local writer and award-winning journalist, who began her career at an African American publication, The Call and Times, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She also worked at the Westbury Times in Long Island, N.Y., and freelanced for some other black publications. The majority of her career has been with the Austin City Daily, The Austin American-Statesman, where she rose from a neighbor reporter to Editorial Writer and Columnist, taking the pulse of Austin’s Communities of Color for more than 30 years. She was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas Capitol Press Corps, covering Gov. Ann Richards and Gov. George W. Bush.
She has won numerous awards for journalism excellence and was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. In September 2020 to respond to elections, the COVID 19 crisis and the George Floyd killing and its aftermath, Ms. Phillips launched a public affairs and news show called, ATX Now In Color! She continues her work in radio, journalism and other areas, including assisting The Bledsoe Law Firm regarding public affairs, media and communications.
She serves on several boards, including ECHO; Texas Campaign for the Environment, and the Travis County Historical Association. She is a former Member of the Joint Sustainability Commission and in that role working with community organizations, helped to create Austin’s Climate Equity Plan.
Current projects include curating the Peggy Drake Holland Student Lounge at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin; and curating a 17-mile citywide bike tour featuring African American historical sites in all quarters of Austin.
Robin Rather, Environmentalist, C.O.O. of BCarbon
Robin Rather is a longtime Austin environmentalist who co-leads the Rewild Zilker project. She is also the VP for Parks and the Environment for the Zilker Neighborhood, where she has lived for more than 25 years. Rather is a former three-time chair of Save our Springs Alliance, was a founding board member of the Hill Country Conservancy, served as a board member for the Trinity Edwards Aquifer Protection Association, and on the Advisory Board of the Sustainable Food Center. Currently, she serves as the COO for BCarbon.org, a climate solutions non-profit that was initiated through Rice University. She works on soil carbon, forest carbon, blue carbon, and biodiversity-related projects for over 450 stakeholders. Her consulting firm, Collective Strength specializes in research, outreach and communications support for transformative projects that include land and water conservation, health care, renewable energy, sustainable economic development, carbon sequestration and new technology adoption.
She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Tufts University and a certificate in advanced mediation from the Dispute Resolution Center of Austin.
Chrissie Robertson, Education Coordinator for Natural Gardener
Chrissie is the Education Coordinator at The Natural Gardener, a world-class gardening destination known for its pioneering work in organic gardening and sustainable living right here in Austin. She also owns her own garden design business, Austin Garden Guru. Services offered include setting up and maintaining organic vegetable gardens, pollinator gardens, and doing community outreach programs.
Victoria Rose, Staff Attorney, Save Our Springs Alliance
Victoria Rose is a Staff Attorney at Save Our Springs Alliance where she primarily works on challenges to wastewater discharge permits, endangered species issues, and other water related matters. Before moving to Austin in February of 2022 to join Save Our Springs, she completed a fellowship with Advocates for the West in Boise, Idaho where she worked on cases that sought to protect federal public lands. She holds an undergraduate degree from Baylor University and a Master of Environmental Management and a Juris Doctor from Duke University.
Lauren Ross, Ph.D., P.E., Glenrose Engineering
Dr. Lauren Ross has 3 degrees in civil engineering and is owner of Glenrose Engineering in Austin, Texas. During 4 decades of environmental work and political activism, Dr. Ross helped to pass the Save Our Springs citizen’s referendum, close a hazardous waste facility in an East Texas African-American community, limit pumping in the San Antonio Edwards to protect spring flows, and bioremediate soils in Post-Katrina New Orleans. She is currently active in a project to challenge racism in Austin.
Rachel Sanborn, Director of Operations, San Marcos River Foundation
Rachel Sanborn has been water quality monitor for the San Marcos River Rangers since 1997 and the volunteer coordinator and trainer for 28 years, before turning it over to Adam Berglund in 2022. In that time she has trained over 1000 volunteers to serve as citizen scientists for the region and was recently elected to represent District 11 on the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board. She currently serves as Director of Operations and volunteer activities
Colin Strickland, M.A.Geo., Cave Biologist, Austin Water Balcones Canyonlands Preserve
Colin Strickland is a second-generation caver that grew up going caving all over the U.S. and Mexico. His love of the natural world led him to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Biology (Ecology, Evolution & Behavior) from the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 2010, additionally he got a Master of Applied Geography (Geographic Information Science) at Texas State University in San Marcos in 2016. He currently works at the City of Austin Balcones Canyonlands Preserve as a Cave Biologist. One of his main goals is to shed light on Central Texas cave organisms through photography and videography.
Jennifer Walker, Director of Texas Coast & Water Program
Jennifer Walker is the Director of the Texas Coast and Water Program at the National Wildlife Federation. She focuses on statewide water policy issues with an emphasis on water planning, infrastructure funding, urban water management, and bay and estuary protection. Jennifer is a water resources expert with twenty years of experience helping city, utility, and state agencies achieve ambitious water supply management and conservation goals. She has helped develop and inform strategic action by utilizing scientific and technical expertise, engaging stakeholders, and approaching resource management challenges with a solutions-oriented perspective. Jennifer is Chair of Austin's Water Forward Task Force, a team working to implement Austin’s groundbreaking 100-year water plan that is focused on deploying One Water solutions to meet future water needs. In 2021, she was appointed by the Texas Water Development Board to represent Environmental Interests on the Texas Water Conservation Advisory Council. Jennifer has a BS in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from the University of Texas at Austin.
Jeff Watson. P.G., Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Staff Hydrologist
Jeff is a native Austinite who graduated from University of Texas Austin with a B.S. and M.S. in geological sciences. Jeff is a member of the Austin Geological Society and is a registered professional geologist. He grew up exploring the Texas Hill Country and swimming in iconic spring-fed water holes such as Barton Springs Pool and Jacobs Well Spring. Jeff developed an interest in geology at a young age during annual family outings to Big Bend National Park. Prior to joining the District, he worked in consulting with the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District as a hydrogeologist and with BSEACD as a hydrogeologic intern. Jeff enjoys rock climbing, hiking, camping, and pretty much all things outdoors.