The Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper, a non-profit organization committed to protecting Santa Barbara’s watersheds, announced its independence from the Environmental Defense Center Sunday night at its second annual benefit.

ChannelKeeper was formed in 1999 by the EDC and is one of 85 “Keeper” programs under the international Waterkeeper Alliance , which fights to protect the health of watersheds across the nation. The Waterkeeper Alliance was formed in 1983 in response to severe pollution of the Hudson River. The Clean Water Act of 1977 enabled the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for all contaminants in surface waters and it is the Waterkeeper Alliance’s job to enforce these standards.

“Ultimately what we do is enforce the law,” Robert Kennedy Jr., president and founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said at Sunday night’s event.

Drew Bohan, the executive director of Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper, said that any changes caused by the organization’s independence will be insignificant in terms of the way problems are approached. Bohan described the Keeper’s strategy as “being tough when we need to be.”

Currently, the ChannelKeeper’s biggest concern is the expansion of the Santa Barbara Airport. Future plans for the airport include expansion into the Goleta slough, which would necessitate the paving over of 13 acres of wetlands and 18 acres of uplands.

“We are opposed to the project as it stands because it further damages an already dying resource,” Bohan said. “We want the city to commit to restoring it.”

Other projects for the ChannelKeeper include an evaluation of the Santa Barbara sewer system. According to Bohan, the system “leaks throughout [the city] and is a substantial contribution to ocean pollution and the closing of beaches.”

Presently, the ChannelKeeper is searching for volunteers to partake in upcoming research and restoration projects, including the monitoring of water quality and restoration of eelgrass on Anacapa Island.

“The lesson we all learned in kindergarten is that we have to pick up our own mess,” Kennedy said. “We have very good environmental laws in this country; the problem is that they’re not enforced. If the laws were enforced, we wouldn’t have closed beaches in Santa Barbara.”

The Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper has taken on its mission of protecting, monitoring and restoring the watersheds of Santa Barbara because, according to Kennedy, “there is no greater asset than the environment.”