Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cleaning Up Little Hunting Creek

The 44th District is largely split between three watersheds - Little Hunting Creek, Dogue Creek and the Bellehaven Watershed (largely Quander Creek).

As part of the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, I had the pleasure of helping Friends of Little Hunting Creek help cleanup trash at the headwaters of Little Hunting Creek where is passes under Janna Lee Avenue. Our team was led by Stratford resident Betsy Martin and included my oldest daughter Eva along with several Fort Hunt Elementary Students who were members of Girl Scout Troops 922, 716, 211, and 364.

Our team came in second place all of the Little Hunting Creek teams by collecting 40 bags of trash. Last year, I organized a creek cleanup last year at Quander Creek (see The Dixie Pig, Cleaning Up Quander Creek) but what I saw was this time was even more eye opening and heartbreaking. We worked over only 0.2 mi. of stream.

Just below the bridge, fallen trees has acted to capture floating trash. Here are some pictures of the consequences.

Aside from the plastic bags, beverage containers, styrofoam and plastic food containers, we picked up five shopping carts, table legs, a street sign for a youth league, over a dozen inflatable balls, two bikes, a base drum, a lawn mower bag, an intact champagne glass, about 10 used diapers, and a DVD entitled "Black Booty." It is important to note that the bulk of the trash was food container waste.

The kids were amazed at what they were looking at. None of them had any idea people treated their trash like this. In addition to the the trash, there was no evidence of any life in the creek at all. There were no fish, bugs, birds, or reptiles. Some of the kids said they thought they had seen a snake and a dead bird. Given the condition of the creek, I am not sure how anything could live in it.

Just below the bridge, there was evidence of a forest fire started around a homeless camp. Here is a picture to the right. The trees surrounding this area were all burned and there was a shopping cart off to the side. It looked like the County had cut down some of the trees after the fire due to the damage.

Trash and watershed management in the U.S. 1 Corridor is a major problem. My experience last summer and a constituent survey I posted last year (The Dixie Pig, Plastic Bags & Mt. Vernon's Watersheds) led me to cosponsor legislation regarding a plastic bag tax this year. This experience further reinforced that opinion.

The vast majority of the trash I saw was food container waste from fast food chains, convenience stores, carry out, and grocery stores. The penalties are stiff - littering is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail under Virginia Law.

The County has adopted a Little Hunting Creek Watershed Management Plan. You can read it here. Interestingly, most of the plan is focused on stormwater flow impacts. The only discussion about trash related to reducing unauthorized dumping. Little in the plan was focused on enhancing the enforcement of littering, improving community education about watershed or trash issues, or pursuing legislative means to incentivize restaurants to minimize the use of the products found in our streams. I have been discussing this with several retailer groups here in Richmond. All are opposed to new taxes or fees, but prefer local educational programs or refuse collection operations at retail sites. I am going to continue those discussions.

At the end of the day, there must be a better way to get control of this problem rather than having our community invest thousands of volunteer hours each year picking up other people's trash. Send me your ideas.

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