Upper Neuse Riverkeeper takes new angle on water quality

Matthew Starr will be approaching water quality from a new direction.

The Upper Neuse Riverkeeper is moving on from Sound Rivers to pursue a graduate degree full time at N.C. State University and conduct research on ways farmers can support soil health and protect water quality — working for clean water from an agricultural angle.

“Matt has been a pivotal part of our staff at Sound Rivers, and its predecessor organization, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, for over 10 years,” said Sound Rivers’ Executive Director Heather Deck. “His work, expertise and passion led him to this great opportunity, and we are thrilled for him as he begins this new journey. His decade of advocacy and educational outreach has helped make important strides toward a healthy Neuse River, and he has assured us that while he is leaving Sound Rivers, he will not be going far!”

Starr’s new role will be in research and development, doing lab and field trial research, as well as literature review, of how farmers can reduce input into the environment and replace harmful synthetic inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides, with biological ones. He sees the new job as both a natural progression from his work as Riverkeeper and a return to his roots in farming — growing up, Starr’s father was the superintendent of a state-run farm.

“Having studied, looked at, sampled and learned about water quality, I think it’s natural to try to tackle one of the issues that affects that,” Starr said. “I’d like to help Ag become a better steward of the environment.”

Starr will be building on the impact he’s had on urban stormwater issues as Sound Rivers’ Upper Neuse Riverkeeper.

“I spent a decade doing this job, and I think Sound Rivers is heading on a good trajectory. There’s no more important organization out there for advocating and improving the water quality of the Neuse River Basin,” Starr said.

Current Lower Neuse Riverkeeper Katy Hunt will be taking on the Upper Neuse and Lower Neuse advocacy roles in the interim, while Sound Rivers’ staff and board are determining the best way to continue the mission of clean water, support communities’ efforts to adapt to climate change and fight for environmental justice.

“As we look at the full picture of Sound Rivers and our work, we are thinking critically about the best position and skills needed for moving toward our collective goals for the Upper Neuse region. You can rest assured that you continue to have a strong advocate for the Upper Neuse River in the interim,” Deck said.

Starr played a central part in Sound Rivers’ upcoming documentary, a 40th-anniversary project exploring a long history of activism, now focused on environmental justice and tackling the global issue of climate change on a local scale. He will make an appearance at the film’s Raleigh premiere on Oct. 9 at Unity Triangle and take part in the panel discussion following the film.