Monday, March 2, 2009

Leave Only Hand Prints

Hikers into wilderness areas know well the golden rule "Leave only footprints" as they pack in and out all sorts of packaged food and camping gear which they have deemed necessities for their sojourn. But here in the city, we hardly think twice, or even once, about the trail of human-made excretia that we leave behind us as we conduct our daily lives in crowded urban conditions.

But as this city gets more crowded, a wonderful thing also happens. Our deep earth-born spirit needs to reconnect with the natural and many folks are finding their way back to nature right here in Silicon Valley, without having to leave on a remote hiking trip into the Sierra Nevada mountains or beyond. While we have paved over nearly 400 square miles of this fertile valley's top soil, we fortunately have not paved over all the local creeks and rivers flowing to South San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay.

It is in these natural creeks that we can observe the cycles of carbon and water in full operation. We see aquatic organisms, from the microscopic to the avian and terrestial critters that live among us in these verdant strips teeming with life. And we also see the hand of humans, sometime in complete conflict or disregard for those living systems, which did not evolve with these human interferences in their habitat.

We build bridges over rivers, of course. Concrete abutments displace creek bank areas which then preclude tree growth and the reduces water shading of a continuous canopy. We build diversion structures to remove flow from the rivers for flood control or water supply. The most drastic thing that we do to creeks, however, is connect storm drain from streets, highways, and parking lots, allowing unfiltered and rapidly drained rain runoff to be discharged directly into our local creeks, rivers and bays.

Urban storm water runoff is a stew,laced with droppings from our cars and our homes, our commerce and even our farming operations. Fuels, hydraulic fluids, fertilizers and pesticides, fine copper dust from our brake pads, and mercury from mine tailings left in upper Almaden Valley 150 years ago are all sources of pollution that finds its way into our local creeks. Most of this takes a water chemist to identify, and, with local monitoring programs being funded, we are more aware of how serious this kind of pollution is impacting the sustainability of the ecosystems of our local waterways.

But the pollution of the local creeks that is most evident to Joe and Jane Citizen is TRASH. As local residents flock more and more to creekside trails and parks, they become quickly disgusted when they see trash on otherwise beautiful creek banks and water surfaces. Neighborhood organizations, hiking and bicycle clubs and schools are adopting a much more proactive stand in fighting back against the endless flow of trash that is reaching our creeks.

Last week, my Naglee Park neighbors started to mobilize to remove a trash raft in the vicinity of the East San Antonio Street bridge, and began to warm up with picking up trash in Williams Street Park over the weekend. I volunteered to pick up trash on the east bank of Coyote Creek, up and down stream of the William Street.

With rain in the forecast and Water District trucks already dispatched to pick up our haul on Monday, I got a jump on the trash picking on Friday. I started at my home and began scouting below the eucalyptus grove opposite the Water District's Outdoor Classroom, located off Williams Street, just down stream of the William St. bridge.

About 100 feet upstream of my lot line, I found a private garbage dump for the tenants of the duplexes south of my home on Brookwood Drive. My son and I loaded about a half ton of trash into my pickup truck and bagged another half ton and piled it back on the other side of the fence, which so conveniently block these tenants view of their trash pile.

I then contacted the owner by phone and suggested that the solid wooden picket fence be replaced with chain link so that the trash won't seem to just "go away" when someone throws it over the fence. I also called the property manager and asked for some help in hauling this mess to the scheduled pick up location at the William St. bridge abutment, but no one ever showed up, but we proceeded anyway.

This morning, in a light drizzle, I drove my pickup truck to the bridge and unloaded my first load near the north side of the east bridge abutment. My neighbor, Sergio and I also carried five heavy bags across the bridge that were collected along the west bank by Sarabelle Hitchner and Sharon Knopf on Saturday morning. Then the Water District crew showed up and we went into high gear, loading first the remaining mess which, on Friday, Nick & I had pulled through the fence behind the two duplexes just south of my home, and then returned to load all the pile stacked near the William Street bridge. I would guess this entire load weighed one to one and a half tons, and will add to the incredible statistic of the tons of trash removed each year by the Water District crews and volunteer trash warriors.

I was happy to see a sign a sign on the truck designating it as assigned to the Coyote Watershed, the largest watershed in the county, at 320 square miles, with over 100 sq.mi. of paved urbanscape below the Andersen Dam near Morgan Hill.

Paul and Dennis are two Water District employees
who don't have trouble sleeping at night, as they spend their days doing real work, loading their Sterling Compactor with tons of trash removed day after day from creeks throughout Santa Clara County.

The pictures in this blog post were taken by my wife, Cari, and the one at the end is a hand print left by one of the Brookwood kids that have grown up in this wonderful neighborhood. I thank her for helping to document some of my most satisfying water-related action in which I have participated during the last four decades of living near Coyote Creek in downtown San Jose. I am also very encouraged by the neighborhoods response to the call for more attention and mitigation of the creek trash problem.

Blessings & thank you Creek Trash Warriors. The ducks and their colleagues living in the creek appreciate your efforts.


Linda said...

Way to go! I also believe it's going to be the neighbors of these creeks that will make the difference!
You should see the Guadalupe this week :(
Linda McCabe
Friends of Guadalupe River Park & Gardens

Kathy said...

Great job! You have gotten a head start on our annual National River Cleanup scheduled this year on May 16th from 9 am to noon. We should have the cleanup sites posted soon on! Thanks for your efforts! We were watching the mallards the other day from the classroom side of the creek! They were having a great swim! See you soon, Kathy

Robin and Karen said...

The trash man cometh ... and I know him!

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you! I too have this problem at the Park as Cazenovia Creek runs thru it. It's a little easier for us as we spend 2 hrs everyday doing trash in a specified Zone, then everybody goes creekside. We host an abundance of wildlife in our little city Park...heron, ducks, fox, beaver, raccoons, hawks, deer, mink ,black and grey squirrels and bats.

PS> Some bowed legs and you could pass as Grampa Ferraro ;)...younger of course!