By Nai Hsueh, Representative for District 5
Walking along our many Santa Clara County creek trails is a local favorite summer activity. However, it’s not always easy to enjoy our beautiful waterways due to the pollution issues generated by illegal dumping and encampments. Even worse is the impact of trash on our fragile ecosystems, wildlife and water quality. This is why pollution prevention is one of Valley Water’s top priorities. We partner with the community year-round on strategies and initiatives to protect the health of Santa Clara County’s creeks by addressing the trash and debris in our streams.
This past May, 596 volunteers responded to our call to join National River Cleanup Day and work to clear 28 sites in Santa Clara County. Together, they removed 25,265 pounds of trash out of our waterways, the equivalent to the weight of 1,148 barbecue grills. In all, volunteers cleared more than 36 miles of creeks, the equivalent of about 38,016 beach towels laid out end-to-end.
Amongst the items found were a 40-gallon aquarium, tires, a laptop docking station, and even a belt buckle from the 1979 Coors Annual Water Ski Jump.
Trash and debris that end up in local creeks can flow all the way to the San Francisco and Monterey bays, polluting the water and endangering wildlife. When the voters approved the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program in November 2020, $51.7 million in tax dollars was earmarked for encampment cleanups and beautification efforts, including trash and graffiti removal. The funding has allowed Valley Water to perform large-scale trash cleanups throughout the county to minimize waste generated by encampments that pollute the waterways. This cooperative effort includes working with nonprofit advocacy groups that help provide housing alternatives to the unhoused population.
During National River Cleanup Day, Valley Water hosted a cleanup site at the Sanchez Ponds, near our headquarters on Blossom Hill Road in San Jose. There is a noticeable number of encampments along the creek bed. As such, in addition to our cleanup, Valley Water brought hot meals, hygiene kits and invited specialized organizations like Opening Outdoors 2020 and Saved by Nature, to assist the unhoused.
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.
We are thankful for the efforts of every one of the volunteers that rolled up their sleeves to participate and make National River Cleanup Day possible. Together, we can work to stop water pollution where it starts and protect our creeks for future generations to enjoy.
Over the past year, I have taken part in many cleanups. It quickly became clear to me that this valley has a big problem with encampments and illegal dumping along its river and creeks. The river is in bad shape just from the drought and the trash is not helping. There is clear evidence in the buried shopping carts, blankets, tents, assorted plastic, bathtubs, and even ATMS that this is a problem that took place over time. Instead of actually solving the problem by making it illegal to camp next to the river, band aid solutions are being applied. These are simply cleanups at spots when the whole river needs to repaired. It is sad enough to see the river and creeks in this valley turned into concrete ditches and their natural courses changed. The tax money should be applied to long term solutions not just a one day affair.