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Ukiah Valley Community Creek Cleanup: From Street To Creek

By The Ukiah Daily Journal - Karen Rifkin
Oct 29, 2020

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The Ukiah Daily Journal


Ukiah Valley Community and Creek Cleanup: From street to creek

Deborah Edelman, senior project manager for the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, has been spearheading the Ukiah Valley Community and Creek Cleanup since 2014. (Photo by Karen Rifkin)


PUBLISHED: October 1, 2020 at 2:16 p.m. | UPDATED: October 2, 2020 at 4:35 p.m.

Saturday morning, still-cool, smokeless skies, and Deborah Edelman is set up at a table adjacent to the tennis courts at Low Gap Park where there’s a foursome of pickle ball players engaged in a robust doubles match.

Edelman, senior project manager for the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, has been heading up the Ukiah Valley Community and Creek Cleanup since 2014.

The effort to clean up local creeks and rivers, first begun by volunteer Rebecca Kress with the Russian River Cleanup some 30 years ago and then joined by volunteers of Friends of Gibson Creek, merged in 2014 under the leadership of RCD and Mendo Recycle and in 2015 was co-sponsored by the county.

The goal is to improve water quality—to remove litter from waterways, to keep plastics, cigarette butts and other trash out of creeks and streams, to prevent pollution of the environment and to prevent aquatic species from ingesting toxins.


Plastics are the biggest concern but cigarette butts are highly problematic, misperceived as food by fish, secreting noxious chemicals that are extremely dangerous to aquatic life.

Cigarette filters—made of a non-biodegradable plastic called cellulose acetate—are the top plastic polluters in the world, the most littered items on earth, with an estimated two-thirds of the trillions of filters used each year tossed into the environment.

“It’s critical that they be prevented from going into waterways and instead picked up and put in the trash where they belong,” she says.

This year the cleanup, like everything else altered by the COVID pandemic, is operating differently. In the past the cleanup hit all the creeks in and around Ukiah—Ackerman, Hensley, Doolan, Gibson, Orrs and the main stem of the Russian River—but this year the focus is on areas that lead into the creeks.

In past years, people—anywhere from 100 to 150— showed up, listened to a safety presentation, were put into teams led by experienced leaders and took off to their destinations, some on foot and some in cars.


Longtime volunteer Charlene Holbrook (with longtime volunteer Dan Holbrook seated in the background) talks with Kyle Brandenburg and Chanelle Hinke before they set off to their cleanup location. (Photo by Karen Rifkin)

This year people signed up online—about 60 of them—and listened to a short pre-recorded safety video, signed off on liability forms, arrived—in bubbles or as individuals—wearing masks and gloves at specified times in 15-minute intervals, received maps and headed out to assigned areas or areas they chose themselves.

“We’re not going to be hitting all the same places this year; we don’t have the people power and we don’t feel comfortable sending volunteers to certain areas without a trained person who knows how to deal with unexpected encounters with people or with needles or contaminated materials.”

The focus is on the cleanup of dry land, removing litter from city streets and walkable areas.

Even though people do not consider that kind of litter to be a contaminate to creeks and rivers, it is; all it takes is a solid wind to move refuse into a storm drain taking it directly into the river.

“The litter in the street stays there unless someone picks it up and recycles it, composts it or throws it in a landfill,” she says.

Storm drains are engineered to reduce flooding, not to deal with trash; they do not have filters; they are not directed to the wastewater treatment plant but go directly into local waterways.

“Nothing but rainwater should go down the storm drain. In addition to the many people in the Ukiah Valley it serves, there are 600,000 people downstream who rely on the Russian River.”

Edelman has been pleased with the response this year, citing some who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

On Saturday, two volunteers told her that they clean local parks on a regular basis—one comes to Low Gap five days a week and another, a family, bring rakes and shovels to Mill Creek Park to do a thorough cleanup.

There is no coffee, no cookies, to greet the volunteers but after returning bags of collected trash—picked up by Mendo Recycle—they receive a coupon from Schat’s Bakery for free coffee and a cookie with RCD footing the bill.

“Schat’s has donated hundreds of dollars’ worth of coffee and cookies over the years; we’re happy to pay this time. They, like many businesses, are not in a position to donate right now.”

After volunteers arrive and check in, they move to the table where longtime volunteers Charlene and Dan Holbrook help distribute pickers and garbage bags and where extra face masks and gloves are available.

Waiting her turn by the table, Annie Esposito says she is honoring Sept. 21,coastal cleanup day, the world’s largest volunteer event to protect and preserve the environment.

“We’re starting right here; the creeks go into the rivers and the rivers go into the  oceans. It’s worse now with the pandemic; everything is being thrown away immediately after use. It’s more important now than it was yesterday and yesterday it was not good.”

Although there have been no clear studies, Edelman says she has seen more than the usual amount of trash on the ground in the form of masks, gloves and takeout containers and has read an article in the New York Times (July 25, 2020) corroborating what she has seen.

James Linderman, Amber Fisette and Adrianna clean up under the bridge at Orrs Creek. (Photo by Karen Rifkin)

Due to COVID, innocent items that previously seemed harmless, now pose a potential threat and give pause for consideration to those who would normally pick up trash.

“I go out with gloves, tongs and a mask and pick up stuff that I consider safe. I stay away from glass and piles in which I cannot determine what is underneath. This is my own personal choice and I do not necessarily recommend it to anyone else,” says Edelman.

There are many problems in the world in which individuals have only a minimal impact but in picking up trash, something that everyone can do, there is an immediate and positive effect.

“That’s what I love about it. It’s an opportunity to take direct and immediate action on a huge global problem—with instant gratification. Every piece of litter you pick up and dispose of properly is a piece of litter that isn’t going to contaminate our water supply and isn’t going to kill a fish.”

Karen Rifkin

Written by the Ukiah Daily Journal - Karen Rifkin - October 1, 2020

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