Russian River Cleanup

River Refuse

Summing up Russian River cleanup and First Flush for 2003

By R. V. Scheide

The Russian River is one of the natural resources that makes Sonoma County such a great place to live. But as the volunteer crews responsible for cleaning up the Russian River and monitoring the storm season’s first runoff have discovered, when a river runs through it, more often than not, garbage goes in it.

“This year, we found washers, shopping carts, tires, cars, batteries, pipes, pieces of iron, crates, transmissions, wrappers, boxes, diapers, barbecues–you name it,” says Spiro Dendrinos, a volunteer for the Russian River Watershed Council’s cleanup committee. The two-day cleanup took place the last weekend in September. More than 350 volunteers showed up to comb the Russian River from Cloverdale to Jenner by canoe and on foot.

After years of volunteering for the cleanup, Dendrinos has become expert at guiding 10-member crews in canoes down the river. As much garbage as possible is loaded into the unstable vessels. “Last year I carried out four tires, a washing machine, and an AC unit down the river in one load by myself.”

“Tires seem to be the biggest thing,” Dendrinos continues. “This year, we found 239 tires.” Car tires, truck tires, tractor tires. Obviously, big old worn-out hunks of black rubber don’t belong in the river. So why do people dispose of them there?

“They don’t want to pay the recycling fee,” Dendrinos says. It’s not like they’re saving a ton of money. Tire shops only charge up to $3 per tire to help pay for disposing of the old rubber. But Bob Clemens, chair of the cleanup committee, agrees that the miniscule fee is enough to cause some people to deep-six their old rubber rather than dispose of it properly.

Besides the 239 tires, Clemens says volunteers removed 31 pounds of aluminum cans, 1,086 pounds of glass, 86 pounds of plastic soda bottles and milk jugs, and more than three tons of scrap metal, including the entire drive shaft and rear-end assembly of an automobile. Most of the material was recycled with the help of Healdsburg high school students who separate paper from plastic, metal from glass. Seven tons of nonrecyclable debris was removed from the river as well.

Clemens says the cleanup effort was started more than 10 years ago by local canoeists, kayakers, and other “paddlers” who use the river and were disgusted with the amount of garbage going into it. At Steelhead Beach, for instance, a mound of refuse piled on the bank extended some 60 feet into the river. A similar situation existed at Sunset Beach. A decade later, that’s changed, thanks to the efforts of the volunteers.

“These were two trashed beaches, hypodermic needles, and human feces everywhere,” Clemens said. “But over the past couple of years, they’ve become pristine, requiring very little pickup.” He says the new trouble spots are upriver, near Geyserville Beach and West Soda Rock in the Anderson Valley. “They’ve been used as public dumping grounds for years, and it’s getting worse.”

That’s where the watershed council, funded through grants from the Sonoma County Water Agency, plans to focus its efforts next year. The money is used mainly to pay for plastic garbage bags and rubber gloves used in the clean up, materials which are also provided to smaller sub-watershed volunteer organizations as well.

Clemens and Dendrinos also volunteer for Russian River First Flush, a separate effort involving 15 national, state, and local agencies that monitors rural and urban surface runoff for bacteria, nutrients, suspended solids, and the insecticide diazinon during the first storm event of the season, which this year occurred on Nov. 6.

More than 287 people participated in this year’s First Flush, manning 140 monitoring stations scattered throughout the watershed, according to Don McEnhill of Friends of the Russian River. The volunteers received training in September and then were on call waiting for the first storm to hit.

“We can’t thank everybody who goes out there in the rain enough,” McEnhill says. “It’s an effort that just can’t be done without volunteers. They’re indispensable.”

This was the second year First Flush has been conducted. The results of last year’s flush were recently released, and while most of the watershed fell into normal parameters, McEnhill says there were several trouble spots, including Foss Creek near Healdsburg, Lower Cotati Creek, and an unnamed creek near Sebastopol.

“These three [areas] had higher levels of diazinon,” McEnhill said, adding that the levels, though high in comparison to other monitored spots in the watershed, were comparable to those seen in urban settings. Once it is determined whether the levels are a problem, the information can then be used to help educate the public on proper use of pesticides such as diazinon.

“The biggest help that First Flush provides is that it helps us work with the cities on storm regulations,” McEnhill. “We can focus the educational effort where it is needed most.”

From the December 11-17, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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