It is the fourth Monday of the month and I forgot to move my car for the street sweepers again. My neighbors complain about the leaves on the ground and give me dirty looks, but I am happy I did not get a ticket. The fact is I have never gotten a ticket for not moving my car on street sweeping day, but I know I should be ashamed. I have increased the risk of unwanted pollutants ending up in the Ocean. It is not news to many city officials and storm water managers that the way to reach their target trash reductions in the streets comes down to parking enforcement.
Sweeping the streets is the number one strategy for cities to reduce the amount of trash that reaches the San Francisco Bay during storms. But the effectiveness of the sweep depends on how close to the curb the truck can sweep. Most trash blows to the edge of the curb and waits there patiently for the next rain to take it away into the storm drains and ultimately into the San Francisco Bay. That is, unless the sweeper can get to it first or it is trapped in special inserts at the storm drain. Trash that blows to the side walk is out of reach for the large street sweepers and needs to be picked up by hand by home owners or gardening crews. Bottom line: litter travels with wind and rain and we all need to do what we can to make sure it does not go away into the storm drain lest we harm local wildlife and further compromise the quality of our precious Bay.
In 2009, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a Municipal Regional Permit that mandates that cities eliminate ALL discharges of trash to creeks and to the San Francisco Bay by 2022. Most jurisdictions plan to install physical trash capture devices in the storm drains and increase the effectiveness of their street sweeping. Some communities also plan to implement plastic bag and polystyrene food container bans. The first benchmark for municipalities is in 2014 when they are expected to have reached 40% compliance. You may be wondering, forty percent of what? The truth is that most cities do not know. We are just beginning to understand the current levels of trash that stormwater carries from each municipality to local creeks and the Bay. Knowing what is ending up in creeks and storm drains is just the beginning of the puzzle. By identifying the main sources of trash and monitoring progress, cities are hoping to implement cost effective solutions to the trash problem.
During the last five years TWP staff and volunteers have been helping monitor trash hot spots around Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. We help identify areas that tend to accumulate trash in the local creek network and along the shoreline and set up transects where volunteers collect detailed data on types and even brands of trash found at these sites. This information is shared with municipalities to help inform their decisions about what are effective ways of reducing trash upstream from the hot spot. This information is collected every year by TWP staff and volunteers and is a great opportunity to get involved and make a difference for the health of the Bay.
We will be collecting data and cleaning at six of the trash hotspot this month and two in the fall, so if you feel curious about this problem and would like to give us a hand, do not hesitate to join our crew. Otherwise, do the Bay a favor and move your car during street sweeping day–that is the first thing I will do on the Morning of April 22, which fittingly happens to be Earth Day and street sweeping day in my neighborhood!
The Watershed Project will be partnering with SPAWNERS to carry out a trash assessment on San Pablo Creek on Tuesday, April 16th. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-665-3538 to join the team!