First Flush Makes a Splash

Photo: Joshua Quigley

Last week saw the return of rain to the Bay Area for the first time in months, kicking off the winter season and initiating a little-known but incredibly damaging event for the Bay – First Flush.  We recently wrote about how this event impacts the Bay with trash pollution, and how an overwhelming amount of this trash pollution is the responsibility of a single state agency – Caltrans. This year Save The Bay used the “first flush” as an opportunity to call out Caltrans for its failure to eliminate roadway trash from our communities by using our social media platforms to highlight this critical issue.  Starting early in the morning on Wednesday while the rain was still falling, we began telling the story under the banner #DontTrashTheBay of how Caltrans has failed for years to abide by requirements mandated by the Regional Water Board to eliminate trash from storm water along its property.

These posts caught the attention of local leaders, who added their own voices to this campaign by expressing their frustration and calling on Caltrans to do more to clean up roadway trash.

Cities like Berkeley have been spending their own residents’ money to clean up trash along areas that are owned by Caltrans – costing the city money that could be spent eliminating trash from other areas.

State elected officials also took note, and praised our efforts to demonstrate the impacts that Caltrans roadway trash have on the Bay and on the cities and counties in their districts.

We wanted Caltrans to understand that the Bay Area community is concerned about the amount of trash that is impacting the Bay coming from their roads.  By the end of the day Caltrans couldn’t ignore the combined voices of advocates and elected officials, and actually responded to our posts directly.  This was an important acknowledgement that elimination of roadway trash must be a priority for Caltrans, and Save The Bay will do all we can to ensure that it is. By the end of this month, Caltrans must submit a report to the Regional Water Board outlining how it plans to prevent trash pollution, with the goal of eliminating trash from 8,800 acres of its roadways by 2026.  Save The Bay will take a close look at that plan once it is released to ensure that it represents a real commitment from Caltrans to finally do its part to keep the Bay healthy and clean.  Ultimately this effort will only be successful if Caltrans offers more than a words – we need action to ensure that Caltrans roads #DontTrashTheBay. By: Joshua Quigley, Bay Smart Communities Fellow