California Coastal Cleanup Day: Volunteer and become the solution to water pollution

After his college graduation in 2000, Alex Bianchi knew he wanted to volunteer his time and give back to his community. But the Santa Clara County resident didn’t know what direction to take.

Bianchi found his path while refurbishing the Wilkie Way pedestrian bridge in Palo Alto — the very bridge his father helped build — when a Valley Water sign promoting the Adopt-A-Creek program caught his eye.

“I thought, ‘this is exactly what I want to do,’” Bianchi said, referring to the Valley Water program that encourages Santa Clara County residents to take an active role in helping to preserve the health and beauty of our creeks.

The first creek Bianchi adopted was the Upper Berryessa in East San Jose, and his commitment to removing pollutants, debris and trash out of local waterways has endured for 19 years.

On Sept. 21, Bianchi will once again volunteer for California Coastal Cleanup Day, a popular, statewide effort to remove trash and debris from our oceans and waterways.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, now known as Valley Water, is one of the agencies leading the effort in Santa Clara County. The cleanup effort in Santa Clara County relies on hundreds of volunteers like Bianchi to clean several miles of our region’s waterways – and we are now taking sign-ups to participate in this community event.

Everyone is welcome to join us Sept. 21 between 9 a.m. and noon at one of 46 cleanup sites throughout Santa Clara County. Registration information can be found at cleanacreek.org.

“Valley Water is proud to play an integral role in California Coastal Cleanup Day,” Valley Water Chair Linda J. LeZotte said. “I am thankful to the residents of Santa Clara County who are willing to donate their time to this wonderful event and make a positive impact on our natural environment.”

Last year, 1,931 volunteers in Santa Clara County removed 56,808 pounds of trash out of 75 miles of our local waterways. Some of the materials removed from our creeks included: chairs, shopping carts, sofas, tires, rugs, scissors, prescription medications, car parts, window blinds, fishing poles, bed frames and countless other items.

Two of the stranger items removed last year were a Christmas tree with lights and a framed picture of Marylin Monroe.

“It’s good to give back to your own community,” said Bianchi, who will serve as a site coordinator at Upper Penitencia Creek. “If it means one or two hours a year, every little part helps.”

The origins of Coastal Cleanup Day date back to 1985, when the focus was on the removal of litter from California’s beaches and oceans. In 1993, California Coastal Cleanup Day was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest garbage collection” ever organized, with 50,405 volunteers.

Since then, the effort has steadily moved inland to include urban waterways.

Santa Clara Valley waterways flow into the San Francisco and Monterey bays, taking all the pollutants, debris and trash accumulated upstream with them. This poses a great threat to vegetation, wildlife and humans. In addition, more than five decades of growing urbanization means more runoff — bringing even more trash and debris — into local storm drains, many of which empty into our creeks and eventually into the Bay.

Coastal Cleanup Day also gives Californians a chance to join people around the world in expressing their respect for our oceans and waterways.

“The bigger picture is to help mother Earth and give back to your community,” Bianchi said.

Bianchi’s employer, De Mattei Construction, helps sponsor the cleanup efforts by supplying water to the events.

Bianchi is also instilling the value of volunteering to his 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. He wants them to develop an appreciation of giving back to their community.

His commitment to a healthy environment is rubbing off on his kids.

At a recent family outing to a Santa Cruz area beach, Bianchi’s daughter told her dad “This would be a perfect site to do a creek cleanup.”

“They know,” Bianchi said. “We don’t litter. We know what it looks like when you do.”

The effort in Santa Clara County is spearheaded by the Creek Connections Action Group, a consortium of public agencies and non-profit organizations that share a goal of protecting Santa Clara County’s waterways. These agencies include Valley Water (chair), Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation, City of San José (Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Services, Environmental Services Department), City of Santa Clara, City of Palo Alto, City of Sunnyvale, City of Milpitas, City of Cupertino, City of Mountain View, City of Morgan Hill, and West Valley Clean Water Program Authority (Campbell, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and the Town of Los Gatos).

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