We have all heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,
but how many of us know about the Great Laguna Garbage Patch in our own backyard?


The Problem
Did you know there is a giant pile of garbage in the lower Laguna de Santa Rosa? If not, you're not alone. Most residents of Sonoma County are unaware of this big problem in our Laguna. Between Guerneville Road and River Road, trash and wood debris have been building up in the channel for years. Old hot water heaters, tires, and milk crates wash down Santa Rosa Creek and tangle with logs and other debris from Mark West Creek to create a channel-clogging mess. The trash traps sediment, builds up the height of the channel, blocks fish migration and floods nearby farmlands.

Farms along the Laguna have historically experienced flooding during the winter months. Farmers count on these winter floods to deposit nutrient-rich sediments on their fields. However, as the channel fills up with trash, spring and even light summer rains are unable to move through the channels and off-season flooding of fields are drowning crops. Each year, farmers along the Laguna must push back planting their crops further into the growing season.


Map ID: 815-A ©2015. Data Sources: Laguna Foundation, Sonoma County ISD, USGS. Cartography: Hattie Brown


How did the garbage get in the Laguna?

Like the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, the movement of water in the Laguna brings together all the litter from the watershed into one big patch. If you lose a soccer ball in Cotati, or a plastic water bottle in Santa Rosa, it is likely that it will eventually end up in the lower Laguna. This movement of water and debris is a part of a natural process, but can create unhealthy consequesnces for our water system. When the water level of creeks rise in the winter, they can pick up debris from their banks carry it downstream. When this fast-flowing water from the creeks hits the flat Laguna channel and the backwater from the Russian River, it slows down and drops whatever it is carrying. Historically, what the creeks were carrying was wood and sediment from up-stream. The debris that accumulates in the Laguna today is not just logs and mud; we find partially full bottles of insecticide, 55 gallon drums full of oil, television sets and other debris that should be kept out of our waterways.


What are we doing about it?
The first step is clear: get the trash out of the Laguna. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation did a pilot project in 2013 with the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corp that focused on removing trash and wood from the channel. In 2015, we expanded the program.  Members of the Youth Corps spent 8 hot and sweaty weeks working with local landowners to haul debris out of the channel, then sorted and piled the debris on to the banks. The trash and recyclables will be taken to the dump and the wood will be burned and turned into biochar. Sections of the Laguna that were buried under debris for years are now flowing freely; just in time for the rainy season that will bring salmon and steelhead migrating upstream to their spawning grounds. River otters and other wildlife are already enjoying the newly open channel! This work would not have been possible without funding from the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Occidental County Sanitation District as a part of a settlement resulting from a Water Board enforcement action. We plan on completing the garbage clean up in 2016 while we work with our partners to make sure that the trash doesn’t build up and clog the channel again.


What can you do about it?

We all need to work together to get the word out that our trash doesn’t just wash “away” when the rivers come up. That dead tree that you had to cut down next to the creek won’t just disappear once it floats downstream. We need to keep everything, from Fido’s favorite tennis ball to last year’s Christmas tree, out of our streams and storm water drains. The clean up of the Laguna begins in your backyard.

 

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Report Illegal Roadside Dumping in Sonoma County
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 visit: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/sw/sw-spill.htm. Please note, where waste is found largely determines who is responsible for picking it up. The type of waste will also determine which agency you should notify.


(Photo, Anita Smith)
"The Laguna watershed is huge and it starts in our backyards and neighborhoods. That local creek or storm drain in our street flows into The Laguna - The Laguna wetlands belong to us all, as does the trash that clogs it.“  Kevin Munroe, executive director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

 

 

(Photo, Hattie Brown)
“Not only does this benefit the community by reducing flood risks, but the newly cleared channel allows salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream to their spawning grounds.” Water Agency assistant general manager Mike Thompson.

 

 

(Photo, Hattie Brown)
“This program is a win-win-win. The Laguna is cleaner, flooding is reduced and young people get hands on work experience and a paycheck,” said Matt Martin, CEO of Social Advocates for Youth, which hired and trained the SCYEC crew. “The young people also become vocal advocates for the Laguna and for a cleaner environment.”