Water for people- Couple paddles for just that



Water for people. Sounds pretty basic to us who live in the blessed Great Lakes region, where we sit on 20 percent of the earth’s fresh water. Let’s admit it – we take our water for granted. We have plenty to drink, shower, and keep our grass green and growing most years. This is not so in other parts of the world where water, and especially clean water, is a priceless commodity and having it is sometimes a matter of life and death.

An estimated 1.8 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe water and 2.4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. Women and children spend more than four hours walking for water each day, and more than 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases.

Gary and Linda DeKock of Grand Rapids chose to do something about that. They kayaked the length of both the Grand and Mississippi rivers in 2014 to raise money for the organization called “Water for People.” They raised over $17,000 on the Mississippi trip and over $11,000 on the Grand River trip for the organization.

The couple shared a slideshow of the two voyages during the recent annual meeting of the Grand River Environmental Action Team.

“We have been doing volunteer fundraising for this organization for several years,” said Linda. Water for People is an international water charity working in nine countries on water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. Gary became involved with it through his career as a wastewater chemist and supervisor.

“We are enthusiastic about this particular water organization because of its sustainable business model, involving the communities and their economies directly in providing clean, safe water to their communities,” she said.

Gary volunteers as chair of the Michigan Water Environment Association.

“We support Water for People because it’s the charity of choice for the Water Environment Federation,” he said. “The WEF is a professional organization that works to support wastewater treatment plants.”

Water for People is headquartered in Denver, Colorado.

“They work in nine countries around the world,” said Gary. “Their focus is to bring safe water and clean water to communities – putting in wells, water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants. These are obviously very simple solutions in developing countries. It might be just a well and latrines. We see that as a way for the community to rise and make other things possible.

“When people can drink safe water and be healthy, it allows them to go to school, get a job, and live a healthy community life,” Gary continued. “You can’t live without it and it’ll kill you if it’s not clean. Obviously, sanitation is important to prevent disease and allow children to grow up and go to school and flourish. You can’t do it without clean water.”

Water for People works to help communities break free from the cycle of poverty so they can spend time growing, learning, and thriving, instead of walking for water and fighting off illness.

“We’re working to reach Everyone Forever with safe water and sanitation,” says the organization’s website. “For us, it’s not just about building wells, installing toilets, and setting up pumps, but about creating long-term, sustainable change. We talk to community members, governments, and business owners to find out what they need to feel healthy, safe, and empowered. Then we build capacity from the ground up and top down, changing entire systems so we won’t have to be around forever – but water and sanitation services will last for generations to come.”

For more information on Water for People, visit

More about the Grand River and the Grand River Environmental Action Team

 Did you know…

  • At 260 miles, the Grand River is the longest river in the State of Michigan and the second largest watershed.
  • The two branches of the Grand River begin at Grand Lake and Center Lake Chain (natural beginnings) in Jackson County and join east of Jackson dropping 467 feet to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan.
  • The headwaters of the Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Raisin Rivers are also close. They all flow west to Lake Michigan, except the Raisin which flows east to Lake Erie.
  • Jackson County sits on one of the largest aquifers in North America.
  • There are over 200 miles of river waterways to paddle and hundreds of small lakes.
  • Some of the largest remaining wetlands in lower Michigan are located in this watershed.


 The mission of the Grand River Environmental Action Team is to promote the protection and preservation of the Grand River Watershed through activities and education programs. Members receive a quarterly newsletter of local environmental issues and paddling activities. They have the opportunity to partner in local watershed improvement projects such as the Annual Grand River Cleanup, which this year will take place Saturday, Sept. 9, as well as the annual Adopt-A-Stream monitoring program where participants collect stone flies and other aquatic insects to help assess the health of the river.

Gary and Linda DeKock promote the “Water for People” group they raise money for on their paddles. This photo was taken below the site of the former dam on the Grand River in Eaton Rapids. They were getting ready to launch on September 1, 2014, for their Grand River voyage from the river’s source in Grand Lake in Liberty Township to where it flows into Lake Michigan.

GREAT is locally known for its monthly paddling excursions the group sponsors for both recreational fun and to create environmental awareness. This year’s calendar begins Sunday, April 9 with a 2-3-hour paddle on the Grand River from Jefferson Road (U.S.-127 bridge in Liberty Township) to the U.S.-127 bridge north of Reed Road.

Other paddling trips planned for the 2017 season include outings on the River Raisin, the Huron River, and the Center Chain of Lakes, plus two more excursions on the Grand and the Annual Grand River Cleanup.

All paddling events are open to the public. To reserve a kayak or canoe (no charge) and to check trip status due to weather conditions, call GREAT at 517-416-4234 or visit

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