Refreshing Santa Clara County Rivers

by | Jun 28, 2022

Volunteers get tips on trash removal techniques.

Volunteers get tips on trash removal techniques. Photo: Valley Water.

More than 500 volunteers with trash pickers in hand scoured 36 miles of Santa Clara County riverbanks on May 21, collecting over 25,000 pounds of trash for National River Cleanup Day. 

The annual event, put on locally by Valley Water and Creek Connections Action Group, was first started in 1991 by American Rivers. The event focuses on protecting rivers, watersheds and ecosystems from trash and litter. Since 2007, the local event has resulted in almost 475,000 pounds of trash collected from sites across Santa Clara County. Nationally, 32 million.pounds have been removed from American waterways in the last three decades. 

“It was one of the first times in two years, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we actually had organized group cleanups for National River Cleanup Day,” says Nick Ingram, a representative from Valley Water. 

At one cleanup site, Valley Water partnered with Saved by Nature and Opening Doors 2020 to provide hot meals and hygiene kits to the unhoused people in the area. 

“Some of the unhoused that were there joined our cleanup efforts,” Ingram says. “They grabbed gloves, trash pickers and a bag and joined the volunteers. Everyone had a great time.”

Tools of the trash pick up trade allow volunteers to stay at arm’s length. Photo: Valley Water.

While the results of these trash cleanups leave rivers looking pristine, they also result in several expected — and unexpected — environmental benefits.

“Once a piece of trash enters a storm drain or stream it may continue downstream and affect many other water bodies (creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, bays, ocean…),” according to a fact sheet released by the State Water Resources Control Board. 

Cleaning up trash, especially around waterways, can help protect ecosystems that rely on that water source. Debris in rivers and creeks that flow into San Francisco Bay can entangle wildlife, disrupt migration patterns and even release harmful chemicals.

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Decomposing wastes and plastics also contribute to greenhouse gasses and thus climate change. Experts say disposing of your waste properly, recycling when applicable, and reducing your single use plastic waste can all help reduce the impact on the environment. 

“Keeping litter off our streets and public areas will ultimately help keep it out of our waterways, and reduce the trash we need to pick up during these events,” says Ingram.

Tools of the trash pick up trade allow volunteers to keep refuse at arm’s length. Photo: Valley Water.

About The Author

Callie Rhoades

is a multimedia journalist and master’s student at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. The majority of her work has been focused on climate change, outdoor recreation and freshwater issues. Her writing has been featured in Earth Island Journal, Berkeley Science Review, SKI Magazine and Oakland North. You can find her work at callierhoades.com.