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Pinole Creek

Volunteers search for dump sites in Pinole Creek Watershed. Want to join?

on December 9, 2021

Damien Grace made a harrowing discovery at Pinole Creek in November. A portion of a 3-foot-long PVC pipe was lodged in the muddy bed. Grace and five other volunteers picking up trash that day knew where the pipe had come from. Pipes like this are typically found on construction sites, not buried in a creek.

Grace had to lie on the bank and stretch to reach the pipe. 

“I found the biggest treasure of the day!” Grace shouted. 

The team also found a decomposing backpack.

Over the past month, six volunteers have gathered at various points in the Pinole Creek Watershed to research the quantity and sources of trash found in 30 random sites along the creek. It is the first time the city of Pinole has involved residents in a trash monitoring program.

Friends of Pinole Creek Watershed, with the city and the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, plan to continue the trash assessment through March. A watershed map and report will be created by the end of June, identifying illegal dumps and litter areas and characterizing the trash and water quality at each site.

Mayor Norma Martínez-Rubin, who is on the project’s leadership team, said she’s interested in holding trash assessments on a regular basis even after the project ends. 

“It is an educational opportunity for people who may not be aware of the Pinole Creek and what it represents,” she said. “We will continue to foster this notion that it is important to be involved in your own community and have opportunities to do good.”

Grace, 30, was born and raised in Pinole and feels that it is important to protect the creek. 

“It was a big part of my childhood, spending time in the natural area where the creek flows,” he said. “That motivates me to preserve the creek and keep it clean.” 

The Pinole Creek, which supports mostly native fish including steelhead trout, flows through Pinole and past numerous residential and commercial developments before emptying into the San Francisco Bay. Charlotte Blodwynne-Heart lives next to the creek and has noticed “many discarded food wrappers and drink cups in the water” in the past three years. While that may seem like a small litter issue, it has much larger implications.

A 2019 study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute found that San Francisco Bay is polluted with about 7 trillion pieces of microplastics, most of which were flushed into creeks and then flowed into the bay. And the report noted the problem is only likely to get worse. 

“Based on the increasing amount of plastic debris collecting in aquatic habitats, current policies are inadequate to address the growing and widespread threat of microplastic pollution,” it stated.

Pinole Creek
Volunteer Megan Tyler takes notes during a trash assessment of the Pinole Creek Watershed. (Wangyuxuan Xu)

Littering and illegal dumping are chronic issues, said Ann Moriarty, of Friends of Pinole Creek Watershed. 

To control the amount of trash, Moriarty hopes to produce data that will support policy change.

“It can be a policy holding people accountable for trash that is generated from their establishment,” Moriarty said. “Another thing for the city is to invest in trash capture, such as garbage cans in hot spots so that trash does not end up in the creek.”

Information about the work the organization is doing and how to get involved is on the Friends of Pinole Creek Watershed website

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