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Cleaning Up Our Urban Waterfronts

2010 March 19

The third Saturday in September is recognized across language and cultural barriers as a day to support and protect our waters as the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC). At last year’s Cleanup, nearly 400,000 volunteers collected over 6.8 million pounds of trash in 100 countries and 42 US states; the largest volunteer effort of its kind. Beginning 23 years ago in Texas, the event has grown into a premiere service event around the world and echoes President Obama’s call to service. Many of the locations are located directly in the heart of large urban populations and serve as sources of education on important water issues. The events’ impact is evidenced by the reduction of trash in the waterways that participate and demonstrates how other clean up efforts around the country can help revitalize the water.

I joined the EPA several summers ago as an intern, while a student at Howard University in Washington, DC. This is when I was first introduced to this annual event, and more importantly the cleanup was my first real experience with water issues and the concept of protecting America’s urban waters. At the time my sole job was managing the partnership EPA had with Howard University, and one of my areas of focus was community service. The two seemed like a perfect a fit since one of the sites designated for a cleanup was here in DC at the Anacostia River. The first year in 2008, we lead a group of about 20 students. With a great response, they were able to develop a sense of ownership responsibility for the waters in their community. In 2009, the amount of support more than doubled, with a little over 50 volunteers from the University and presence at two sites within the city.

I have witnessed the impact that clean ups like this have on our water and in the hearts of the volunteers through my work with EPA and Howard University firsthand. It also brought Environmental issues and more importantly issues with urban waters (like trash and runoff) to both students at Howard and the general population of DC. As this particular event approaches its 25 year anniversary there is still more that can be done especially on our urban waterfronts. Unfortunately trash may always find its way into our waters, but our clean up efforts make a large difference to communities that leave in these areas.

Link about the coastal cleanup.

About the Author: Jarred McKee is a Fellow in the Oceans & Coastal Protection Division in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans & Watersheds. He has been with the EPA for several years now and annually works on the Agency’s Partnership with the Ocean Conservancy and International Coastal Clean Up.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Carolyn Allen permalink
    March 19, 2010

    Demonstrating water issues and solutions is probably the most profound messaging that can make a difference. I look forward to September’s International Coastal Clean-up (ICC) because I live within a mile of the Pacific Ocean… and the debris on the beaches is disheartening. And I KNOW people are unaware that their plastic balls and cups and bottle caps float all the way from miles inland to pollute their neighborhood ocean. Keep up the support of demonstrated learning experiences! Carolyn @ California Green Solutions and Solutions For Green

  2. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    March 21, 2010

    People First, California, Orange County Chapter has a community enclusion project on the Oso Creek Trail that has led to a major decrease in the amount of litter on the trail and in the creek, a shopping cart patrol of the Orange County Public Works Department that operates 7 days a week to collect abandoned grocery carts off the trail, the hills above it, and off the creek banks and out of the water. Several trash piles have been removed, and things like broken wood cargo pallets have been taken out of the creek. Grafitti markings are removed. This project is an all volunteer effort. And it really helps improve the waterway. People like to walk on the trail and they talk about how nice it is and how well maintained it is. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. Sandra permalink
    May 10, 2010

    Thanks a lot I currently work for a Office Cleaners in Leeds and although doesn’t affect me directly, we were just on about doing something just like this locally – giving something back to the community.

    Keep up the good work

  4. Sarah permalink
    May 31, 2010

    Urban waterfront areas pose special challenges in terms of restoring critical habitat and water quality as well as preventing further damage. Urban bays, such as those found in Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, Everett, Olympia, and Bellingham, have changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Urban centers were developed in these locations because they were flat areas that are part of major estuaries. These estuaries are the center piece of the Puget Sound ecosystem providing vital nursery areas for important species that help make up the bottom of the food web.

    When we built our Puget Sound cities the first time around, we destroyed shorelines and wetlands of Puget Sound. Now we know better. We have a chance to rebuild the nearshore consciously, restoring clean water and Puget Sound’s amazing ecosystem, and reap new economic and cultural opportunities for the region.

  5. Jerry Morgan permalink
    August 30, 2010

    There is something to be said for communities getting together to ensure their future. Infact there is really something to be said for what can be done for good when there is unity.

    I loved the following portion of the article:

    “The third Saturday in September is recognized across language and cultural barriers as a day to support and protect our waters as the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC). At last year’s Cleanup, nearly 400,000 volunteers collected over 6.8 million pounds of trash in 100 countries and 42 US states

  6. Andy bright permalink
    October 20, 2010

    Urban water fronts are one of the most important designs to our urban architecture without clean water ways we all begin to feel that we are living in a cage. I think that water reminds us all in some way of freedom. Thanks for the good work.

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