In the fall of 2018 Daily Acts received a $5,000 grant from the Rohnert Park Foundation small grants program to conduct rapid trash assessments along Hinebaugh and Copeland Creeks in Rohnert Park. The funds were used for materials and equipment to conduct the assessments, produce the reports and conduct an education project with Credo High School. The project helped the City of Rohnert Park meet its storm water permit requirements.
“A lot of our cities in Sonoma County have received new ordinances around trash, specifically as it relates to storm water pollution,” says Brianna Schaefer, Programs Manager for Daily Acts. “The rapid trash assessment is a new tool that many cities are undergoing to get a baseline of the amount of trash they’re finding across their cities. Throughout a city there are opportunities for trash to enter a storm drain and then into our creeks and waterways.”
A rapid trash assessment is a tool that jurisdictions use to understand what areas present the biggest problems and where to prioritize clean up and littering or illegal dumping prevention efforts. In our streams, trash acts as a water pollutant. Not only is it negative aesthetically, but it also harms aquatic life and poses threats to human health and wildlife, especially if the trash contains toxic substances such as batteries, pesticide containers and fluorescent light bulbs that can contain mercury. Larger trash items can also cause obstructions to natural stream flow causing bank erosion and other problems.
Initially Daily Acts had planned to get student volunteer groups involved in conducting the assessments. However, due to the work needing to be done early on in the fall semester as well as the potential of putting students at risk due to hazardous trash that might be found in higher density trash areas, the organization decided to do the work themselves.
“We have completed our work [this fall], because the city contractor we’re working with, Nick Bennett, the Environmental Coordinator for Rohnert Park, wanted us to do our assessment ahead of the planned creek clean up they already had scheduled,” says Schaefer. “There has been a lot of movement towards keeping volunteers out of creeks in particular just because of potential hazards that they might encounter.”
However, part of Daily Acts’ mission is to educate. Therefore, they invited Marika Ramsden, One Planet Coordinator at Credo High School who works on sustainability, to help with a rapid trash assessment along Copeland Creek. Then the organization presented on how to conduct rapid trash assessments to her high school class. Since there is a tributary that runs along the SOMO campus where the school is located, the students could then perform a rapid trash assessment along their own waterway.
Once the trash in a rapid trash assessment is quantified and qualified, each area of the assessment is given a qualifier rating, from “low”, meaning less than one piece of litter per a two car-length distance, to “very high”, meaning trash is seen continuously throughout the area. The city uses this information to prioritize where interventions need to be done, from putting in screens or scrubbers along storm drains, to organizing clean up efforts, to issuing fines, to conducting educational campaigns.
“What is interesting about these rapid trash assessments is that they are not often conducted along waterways,” says Schaefer. “They’re primarily conducted in the urban or built environment because that’s thought to be the generator of the trash. While it ends up in the waterways it’s not necessarily where it begins. There is an ability for municipalities to substitute out areas within the urban core that are low, for areas along waterways or other designation that are known to be high, to make sure they are also quantified. So it’s really awesome that Rohnert Park is subbing out these other areas that are not a problem, for our creeks that they know are a problem, and focusing their energy there.”
According to Schaefer, there were no big surprises in doing the rapid trash assessments along Hinebaugh and Copeland Creeks. Hinebaugh had more higher trash areas overall. Out of the 10 sections covered in the Copeland Creek assessment, three had a “high” or “very high” designation. Most of the litter was what they expected, from typical pedestrian litter, to bicycle debris, to refuse from transient populations, to some drug paraphernalia.
Petaluma-based Daily Acts, a sustainability non-profit, was started in 2002 and is founded on the belief that “by reclaiming the power of our daily actions, we can transform our lives, our homes, gardens and neighborhoods and that through inspired action, education and collaboration, we can create more nourishing, connected and resilient communities.” The organization is grounded in the core belief that every choice one makes matters. Through education programs, action campaigns, and strategic alliances, the non-profit connects people to each other and to their own power to grow food, conserve resources and build local resilience.