The Gift of a Cleaner Watershed

Lori Pottinger
Wading in the creek with International Rivers
Wading in the creek with International Rivers

Who knew spending a sunny Saturday morning picking trash out of creek could feel like a gift? 

Our newest staff member, Margaret Zhou, had arranged for International Rivers staff and friends to join the Watershed Project on March 14 for a creek cleanup day, as a way to celebrate the 2015 International Day of Action for Rivers.  Thank you Margaret for making us get our hands dirty!

As some of my colleagues maneuvered into rubber waders that, theoretically, would keep them dry up to their chests, we learned about the link between trash found in small creeks like the one we were to clean up and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a plastic-laden whirlpool in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that has grown to the size of Texas. Martha and Juliana from the Watershed Project – a truly amazing local group that is preventing pollution in San Francisco Bay one creek at a time – shared their considerable knowledge about the history of Wildcat Creek, the monitoring work they’re doing to assess what kind of trash is polluting this particular watershed (take-out food and drink containers take a lot of the blame), and the group’s efforts to raise awareness of the big picture with local youth. Their passion for this slightly abused urban creek was contagious. We grabbed gloves and trash-grabbers and headed to site. 

Juliana from the Watershed Project got us fired up!
Juliana from the Watershed Project got us fired up!

As we traipsed through the wet meadows to get to the creek, we partnered up in groups of three: two trash pickers and a recorder. The site we’d be cleaning was part of a long-term project to record the types and amount of trash that’s making its way to this particular stretch of creek, and find solutions to the problem. 

We filled dozens of trash bags with (mostly plastic) trash. With each styrofoam peanut, each to-go food container, each plastic cup, we were preventing the contamination of the Bay and ocean where most of this stuff will end up. One less turtle thinking it had a tasty meal that was actually toxic plastic bits! One less cigarette lighter contaminating the creek! And for one lucky little boy, who was the super-star of our clean-up day, one less toy dinosaur to float out to sea! 

Being able to work in our local watershed and give back to the community turned out to be the perfect way to spend the International Day of Action for Rivers. Those of us in the Berkeley office of International Rivers spend much of our time thinking about water issues in Latin America, Africa and Asia, so it was nice to connect to one of our own local watersheds and be able to see the immediate success of our work. Learning about the good works of the Watershed Project was the icing on the cake. 

Being on the creek on Saturday made me feel more connected not just to my own local watershed, but also to the thousands of people around the world who were also taking action for rivers and showing their love for their own watersheds that day. It gave me a visceral reminder of how #RiversUniteUs, and why the International Day of Action for Rivers is such an important annual event.

Thank you to my colleagues at International Rivers and their families, and the folks from the Watershed Project, for getting down in the muck with me on Saturday. The experience was truly a gift – not just to the planet, but to each of us who got to know Wildcat Creek a lot better.

If you haven’t already, tell us how you spent the day of action by adding your event to our global map


Wednesday, March 18, 2015