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Gulf Guardian Award Winners 2004

Individual Category - 2nd Place

Project #: GG-04-19
Individual Name: James R. Matz
Category: Individual
Project Type: Public Health and Nonindigenous Species
Website: http://www.valleyproud.orgExit EPA Disclaimer

For 15 years James Matz has worked tirelessly to provide leadership to promote environmental education and projects which impact public health and improve the Gulf of Mexico. His innovative approach to mobilizing thousands of volunteers in a cooperative bicultural environment on both sides of the Rio Grande near the Gulf of Mexico, through the Valley Proud Environmental Council (VPEC) and other organizations, has had a beneficial impact on this rapidly developing coastal area. He has earned numerous awards including the President’s National Service Award, Southern Community Forest Service "Changing the Southern Landscape" (13 states) award, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Environmental Excellence Award in the individual category.

A) The Setting - The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas/Mexico straddles the Rio Grande as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. For the last 10-15 years this bicultural area has become one of the fastest growing areas with a population now estimated at over 2 million people. About 85 percent of the population on the Texas side is Hispanic. It is also an area with a high unemployment rate, high poverty rate and high school dropout rate. A great deal of this growth is around the Rio Grande River, the Laguna Madre, South Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico.

B) Gulf of Mexico and Public Health - There are only two fresh water sources that flow into the Laguna Madre, a major nursery/estuary of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf of Mexico. One is the Rio Grande and the other the Arroyo Colorado. Fundamental to the public health of the area and the Gulf of Mexico is the water quality of these in-stream flows.

C) The issue - Improving Water Quality - In the late 1980's James was asked to serve on the Public Advisory Board of the US/Mexico Border Plan, the Border Trade Alliance, and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin Coalition. In all of these organizations he was a strong advocate for improved water quality and the construction of efficient wastewater treatment plants in Mexican border towns.

He also served as Chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional (3 counties) Solid Waste Management Committee that produced the area's first Regional Solid Waste Management Plan. At the same time he served as Chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council's (Council of Governments) Environmental Resource Committee.

At the state level he served on the boards of Keep Texas Beautiful and the Texas Urban Forestry Council.

As is commonly known, the improper disposal and illegal dumping of solid waste can have a profound negative effect on public health and water quality. Likewise, tree planting can have a beneficial impact on water quality.

D) Regional Action - In 1990 James founded and has since chaired the Valley Proud Environmental Council (501.c.3) whose mission is regional conservation through reforestation and responsible solid waste management. VPEC projects, performed on an annual basis, include supporting the Texas GLO with two beach cleanups, Project Rio Reforestation/Dia del Rio (planting native trees), Christmas Compost (Christmas tree composting), Project Redirectory (telephone book recycling with SBC), All Valley Arbor Month, All Valley Recycling Day, All Valley Trash Bash and Texas Country Cleanup and the year round Captain Crab Clean Beach project and Anti-Illegal Dumping Campaign.

E) Local Action - In 1995 James formed the Arroyo Colorado Conservation Coalition involving about a dozen entities in Cameron County to address water quality in the Arroyo Colorado and the possibility of establishing a wildlife corridor. He has also earned Texas Parks and Wildlife and National wildlife Federation WILDSCAPES designations on four properties, including 10 acres of prime development land he reforested with native trees and committed to the Conservation Reserve Program. He also prepared two native plant brochures.

F) Results/Success- Over the years VPEC, working with volunteers and other organizations, has caused hundreds of tons of telephone books, tens of thousands of tires and Christmas trees to be recycled; millions of trees to be planted; and hundreds of tons of trash to be collected, from the beaches and valley wide. VPEC's success is reflected in the six national and four state awards earned including Renew America Earth Day 2000 Award for "Environmental Sustainability for Community Education" and Texas General Land Office "Coastal Education and Public Awareness Award."

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