Regulating Trash to Conserve More Water

Image of a sunset on Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead

Californians are no longer allowed to throw their trash in the ocean and new regulations are to blame. According to the State’s Water Resources Control Board’s new Trash Control Policy (approved by the U.S. EPA), trash will be kept out of bodies of water, including streams, lakes, coastal and ocean waters. Although the majority of California residents do not have direct contact with the Pacific Ocean, their storm water runoff does. This will impact many municipalities that are permitted to dump water into the major tributaries that serve the coast.

Surprisingly, this kind of common sense thinking of keeping our oceans clean has never been regulated. Now that it has, we may be a step closer to stabilizing the Garbage Patch circling around the Pacific Ocean, now twice the size of Texas!

Captain Charles Moore, founder of Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, California, and author of the book, Plastic Ocean, was recently interviewed on my program, A Culture of Garbage. He spoke about the need to find new ways to keep from adding to the garbage that ends up in our waters, leaving a giant Garbage Patch, and this new trash policy is a step toward that end. Most of this ocean garbage is in the form of small bits of plastic floating just below the surface, broken down from years of sunshine and seawater, but is often consumed by the sea life, ultimately disrupting their digestive tracts, left for dead, and thus causing an imbalance within the wild kingdom. “The Away Inn is full”, Captain Moore states, which is contrary to our mentality when we think that when something is thrown away, it is simply gone. This Trash Control Policy establishes requirements for municipalities to install means to keep garbage from entering water bodies at the point of contact, such as filters, and debris screens.

Unlike the trash we do see, like plastic bottles, candy wrappers and cigarette butts, which has it’s own form of contaminants, the other stuff that we don’t easily identify as garbage, like automobile fluids, excess fertilizer runoff and other surface pollutants need to be controlled at the source. These hidden pollutants add to the degradation of the quality of storm water runoff that ultimately ends up, sometimes, in our drinking water. Now that California is regulating street trash, I see a very important hidden side benefit to all this. I don’t like to use old cliché’s, but…what we have here, is the perfect storm to be water conscientious!

Conserve Water

Government is great at imposing laws to enforce common sense, and California is a perfect example of this. We have a full-time legislative body, where their only job is to create laws. It would seem natural to save water, and conserve as much as possible, and collect rain from our roofs to water our gardens. It would only make sense not to trash our oceans and keep debris from being washed into our streams and lakes, but we’re only human, right?

Well, here’s the thing…the two go hand in hand.

Photo of rain runoff, and bringing debris across a non-pervious surface during a storm event.
Water Erosion

When we control our storm water runoff in order to reduce water body contaminants, we’re having to collect and save some of this water on-site, or at least slow it down to percolate and recharge the aquifers that most of our drinking water is sourced, thus reducing the demand of having water delivered and pumped hundreds of miles away. On the other hand, if we are required and/or Incentivized to Conserve, store and use this storm water, aka Rainwater, well…we are also reducing the amount of water that would otherwise wash down our streets, picking up contaminants on it’s way to our streams, and dumping into our oceans.

Regulating trash to conserve water sounds like a good idea, but let’s reduce garbage, save water and make this about keeping our community and family healthy, and safe, anyway, for this is just another key element in developing a Lifestyle in Sustainability.

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