By Director Richard Santos, representative for District 3
One of my priorities as the Chair of the Valley Water Homeless Encampment Committee is to seek ways to protect the health of Santa Clara County’s creeks by addressing the pollution issues generated by illegal dumping and encampments along our waterways. We’ve seen a rise in the number of people living along the waterways during this past year. Unfortunately, with the increase in individuals along the creeks comes an increase in trash and debris in the streams.
Local creeks flow towards the San Francisco and Monterey Bays, which means debris near waterways can lead to water pollution and endanger wildlife. When the voters approved Measure S last November, they allowed Valley Water to set aside $38.7 million tax dollars for Valley Water to continue coordinating with local cities and agencies to clean up creekside encampments. We believe these investments will help reduce encampments in our waterways. Creek pollution is an issue we must tackle in collaboration with local and county governments, organizations that provide outreach services to the unhoused, and the support of dedicated volunteers from the community. It will take all of us working together to maintain our creeks as a beautiful and pristine habitat for our community to treasure and enjoy.
We gave the effort to clean up our creeks a push forward on Saturday, May 1. Nearly one hundred volunteers recruited by The Trash Punx, Saved by Nature and the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition joined Valley Water, the City of San José and the County of Santa Clara in a massive effort to clean up two sections of Coyote Creek. We received donations and support from Zanker Recycling and Republic Services. Together, we removed more than 27 tons of trash from areas of Coyote Creek along Tully Road and Charcot Avenue. Beds and shopping carts are just some of the items we hauled out of the creek, along with 64 gallons of biowaste, 47 car tires, seven car batteries, five propane tanks and one fire extinguisher.
It was a massive effort, and I want to personally thank every single one of the volunteers who showed up on Saturday morning, masked up, rolled up their sleeves, grabbed a litter pick-up stick and trash bags and got to work. At the end of the day, as garbage trucks hauled away those 54,000 pounds of garbage, there was a tremendous sense of achievement and pride in working together to join the solution to water pollution.
However, we didn’t just take away litter. We left behind hope. Special thanks to the nonprofit Opening Doors for providing hot meals and outreach services for the unhoused community. The City of San José handed out redemption cards from the Cash for Trash Program in exchange for filled garbage bags. Our hearts go out to those living by the creeks, nobody should be in that situation, and we were grateful to work with the unhoused community with dignity and mutual respect.
We can do this. Let’s keep the momentum going and clean up our creeks. Valley Water invites residents who want to be part of the solution to reduce water pollution to register for the National River Cleanup. It’s easy, walk around your neighborhood once or every Saturday in May, and pick up any garbage you see. By doing this, you will be stopping trash where it starts and prevent it from flowing to the bay. If you would like to share how much garbage you picked up or join an organized, socially distanced cleanup, visit www.cleanacreek.org.
I felt extremely grateful to be a part of this amazing volunteer team! We did work as a team regardless of who we were where, where we came from, all that didn’t matter. What mattered — the task before us, accomplishing it, most of all, contributing to Mother Earth helping her be healthier and happier, plus enjoying meeting new people and sharing our experiences. Very grateful to all.