by Andy Gregory, Pollution Prevention Program Manager
As part of Puget Soundkeeper’s effort to connect more people to the myriad of threats that impact Puget Sound, this month we partnered with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and spent two long days getting down and dirty with a very urban section of the Puyallup river. There are several things that may surprise you about the Puyallup River as it flows from the glaciers of Mt. Rainier 46 miles to Commencement Bay, I know it surprised me. First and foremost the river is beautiful. Even the urbanized 6 miles that we cleaned up between Sumner and downtown Puyallup are beautifully vegetated and home to a variety of wildlife. The Lower 26 miles of the river are diked, restricting the river’s ability to flood and meander naturally and considerably reducing the amount of salmon spawning habitat. Several smart, capable and motivated organizations including Citizens for a Healthy Bay and the Puyallup Watershed Council are actively working to protect and restore the Commencement Bay Estuary and the Puyallup River.
Perhaps most importantly there is now nearly 1,000 pounds less trash in the river than there was before this project. Thanks in large part to over 50 volunteers from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, we were able to remove everything from the tiniest pieces of plastic and cigarette butts to shopping carts and decomposing mattresses. With on-water support from the expert guides at Wild and Scenic River Tours, over 30 people were able to raft this 6 mile stretch of river and pull hundreds of pounds of trash from its beaches and banks. This effort was complemented by two shore-side clean ups on the river walk trail covering the areas behind Fred Meyer and Safeway. At the end of the second day, Paul Engel, owner of Wild and Scenic River Tours said, “We really made a difference here. I’ve been looking at this section of river for three days now and it feels like we really got all the trash!”
While he might be right about this one section that we thoroughly scoured, there is still a lot of work to be done. Volunteers learned about other sources of pollution entering the watershed through less-visible ways such as stormwater runoff from the huge areas of impermeable surface. “Those little drips and drops of oil and antifreeze from that leak under your car you’ve been meaning to fix add up,” said Bill Anderson from Citizens for a Healthy Bay. “Think about the impact when 15,000 people are washing their cars on the same day and all of that soap and road grime goes down a storm drain, into the river, and eventually ends up in Puget Sound.” Fortunately, through the educational efforts of groups like Soundkeeper, CHB, and the Puyallup Watershed Council individuals are starting to see the effects of their own behavior, and if you ask any of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ volunteers, they’ll tell you that each person’s efforts really do make a big difference!