San Jose, California, has capitalized on an unexpected upside of prolonged drought: Thanks to low water levels, volunteers were able to remove trash from local creek beds that had been previously inaccessible.
According to a city press release, trash collection at 32 “hot spots” — places where garbage tends to collect in creeks — was 73 percent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Much of this increase was “legacy trash” that had been building for decades, and the list is fitting for the detritus of a tech hub. They hauled out 1980s computer monitors, floppy discs, cassette tape decks and typewriters.
“There aren’t many positive aspects from the California drought, but this silver lining has allowed our teams to make San Jose a cleaner place,” said Kerrie Romanow, environmental services director, in a statement. “It also helps us to better see the long-lasting negative impacts of illegal dumping and litter.”
San Jose conducts annual cleanup and litter-sorting activities at these hot spots. More than 6,100 volunteers participated in 109 events last year, removing 626 tons of litter from streets and creeks. That’s equivalent in volume to about 42 semi trucks. All Bay Area cities and stormwater agencies are required to develop plans to reduce litter from stormwater systems by 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2022. According to the city, San Jose is on target to meet the 70 percent goal by next July.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.