Mar 30, 2016

Drought Allowed San José to Reach Decades-Old Trash From Creek Bottoms

"Legacy trash" in creek bottoms included computer monitors, floppy disks

san jose, drought, trash pickup, legacy garbage

With very low water levels in San José creeks due to the prolonged drought, San José volunteers have been able to reach trash in local creek beds that had been previously inaccessible for years.

Along with volunteer-organized litter cleanups, San José conducts annual cleanup and litter sorting activities at 32 creek “hotspot” locations.

As a result, last year San José was able to increase trash collection from litter hot spots by 73% compared to 2014. Much of this increase is due to “legacy trash” that has been building up for decades.

To help clean up trash and create a cleaner community, San José has partnered with community groups and volunteers to conduct litter cleanups with a focus on local creeks. Legacy trash included computer monitors from the 1980s, floppy discs, radios with cassette tape decks, old toys and typewriters.

“There aren’t many positive aspects from the California drought, but this silver lining has allowed our teams to make San José a cleaner place,” said Kerrie Romanow, director of the San José Environmental Services Department. “It also helps us to better see the long-lasting negative impacts of illegal dumping and litter.”

When trash misses the garbage can and lands on streets, it makes its way to a storm drain and eventually local waterways. The combined cleanups have had a dramatic impact on the quality of life and environment in the South Bay by removing litter and pollutants that harm creek habitat and cause environmental damage as they move through the Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

More than 6,100 volunteers participating at 109 cleanup events collected 626 tons of litter from streets and creeks throughout San José in 2015.

“The work our cleanup volunteers do is invaluable,” said Steve Holmes, Friends of Los Gatos Creek project manager. “Beyond the immediate impact on local wildlife, a cleaner San José also provides benefits for the environment throughout the Bay Area.”

Cleanups are organized by the San José Anti-Litter Program, Downtown Streets Team, Creek Connections Action Group, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful and Friends of Los Gatos Creek. Community groups receive funding from the San José Environmental Services Department, San José Housing Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The State Water Resources Control Board in 2009 required all Bay Area cities and storm water agencies to develop plans to reduce litter from storm sewer systems by 40% by 2014, 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2022. Currently, San José is on target to meet the 70% goal by July 1, 2017. The city’s long-term litter reduction plan calls for more litter cleanup efforts to continue in the coming years.

The annual Great American Litter Pickup will take place the day after Earth Day on Saturday, April 23 in multiple locations throughout San José. To find cleanup locations, call 408-975-7233. Residents, businesses, and visitors also can get involved by visiting