The Starting Point – A Little Research
Before jumping into a creek and removing all debris, litter, logs, and anything else that catches your eye, ask yourself if you are doing more harm than good. All stream clean-up activities should be planned and carried out to help you realize your goal of improving the environment.
Wholesale removal of all materials in the streambed can actually cause damage. Pools form behind logs and other large organic debris, providing shade and resting places for migrating fish and other creatures. Even human-made material embedded in a stream may be performing a valuable function. When you consider doing a stream cleanup, we recommend that you be very selective in the material you choose to remove. A simple rule of thumb: if the object is more than half buried and a great deal of sediment would be stirred up by its removal, leave it there.
Occasionally you may encounter some items that could pose potential health hazards. If you come across 55 gallon barrels containing unknown substances, transformers from telephone/utility poles (these contain PCB’s), syringes, or any other suspicious items, DO NOT TOUCH THEM. Contact your local Health District Office or State Environmental Department for assistance.
Before You “Get Your Feet Wet”
Make sure that you have adequate numbers of people to assist you for the area you intend to cover. Begin with a small nucleus of people and hold a few planning meetings. List tasks to be accomplished and the dates they must begin and end. Assign tasks to people at the meetings and follow up on assignments with phone calls.
The following are key tasks to be completed before the stream cleanup:
1. Obtain the property owner’s permission to access your adopted stream.
2. Obtain a permit approval from your local Department of Fisheries and Wildlife if required.
3. Arrange for garbage cans and bins at the clean up site. Also ask people to bring trucks and wheel barrows to haul trash and debris.
4. Find temporary locations for storing collected debris near the stream and secure the property owner’s permission for that purpose.
5. Arrange in advance for the ultimate destination of the debris collected and the means to get it there. (Your friends’ and neighbors’ pick-up trucks generally work quite well.) If an entire community or neighborhood is involved, your city or county solid waste departments may provide assistance and free disposal. Contact them well before the event to enlist their help and cooperation.
6. Advertise the clean-up to your community. Send press releases to your local media. You may end up recruiting more help and support.
On the Day of the Clean-up
1. Pick a “staging area” and keep it staffed at all times. Keep first aid supplies, water, and, if
possible, provide rest room facilities.
2. Have the volunteers sign in as they arrive. Get names and addresses.
3. Make everyone aware of safety issues, such as:
work in pairs, wear rubber gloves, don’t pick up hazardous wastes, lift with your legs not your back, don’t pick up things that are too heavy, don’t walk in the stream in water higher than your knees, etc.
4. Make a map of where people will be working and keep track of everyone involved in the
5. Make the volunteer effort as festive as possible. Bring refreshments and other treats for when the work is done. Take pictures of the stream and your volunteers before, during, and after the event.
6. Keep the day down to about 4 hours.
After You “Dry Your Feet Off”
1. Follow up by recording, in simple terms, the amount and types of debris collected (i.e. truckloads or tons of debris). Take photographs.
2. Provide this information to the media in a press release. This last step will likely result in a well deserved pat on the back for the people who helped in the project and make the public more aware that we should not use our streams as dumping grounds.
3. Send thank you notes to your volunteers.
4. Set up a “Watershed Watch” to prevent more garbage from being dumped into your creek.