Watershed Brigade holds countywide cleanup event for World Water Day
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s Watershed Brigade set an ambitious goal for the weekend — to clean every beach from Gaviota to Ventura in honor of World Water Day.
Saturday morning, dozens of volunteers spread themselves out at every beach along Santa Barbara County’s coast, armed with plastic gloves, buckets and determination to clean up litter.
Luisa Wood began volunteering with the Watershed Brigade when it began on Memorial Day 2020, when Channelkeeper staff and volunteers noticed an influx of litter as a result of the shutdown. Ms. Wood is a trail runner, and noticed the increase herself on Santa Barbara’s trails.
“I started doing this because of the trails,” she told the News-Press. “When we were shut down, suddenly, way up there where I find peace, the trails were completely packed — which I was happy about because I love having people out there — but there was so much garbage.”
Ms. Wood then found out about Channelkeeper’s Watershed Brigade, a community of volunteers who pick up litter and share their results in a Facebook group, and now she brings her kids out and picks up trash every weekend. Saturday morning, she visited Leadbetter Beach with her orange bucket that reads “Let’s do this,” ready to clean up everything from tooth flossers to bottle corks to face masks to food and its plastic packaging, and much more.
“One thing I really love about this is everyone says ‘thank you’ all the time,” Ms. Wood said. “Just since we walked up here, some guys said, ‘Thank you so much for keeping our place beautiful,’ so it’s really cool.”
The volunteer has called Santa Barbara home for 12 years, and currently works as a behavior specialist for Santa Barbara Unified School District. She said because many students need volunteer hours, picking up trash around the county is “something they can do super easily.”
“Get the kids off those darn screens!” she said, adding that a little bribery such as 15 extra minutes of screen time for two hours of trash cleanup never hurt anyone.
The Watershed Brigade Facebook group allows volunteers to share how much trash they retrieved for however long they decided to do so, and they can earn points, which can earn them prizes such as gift certificates, T-shirts, cleanup supplies and other prizes.
“The cool thing about this program is we get to share it,” Ms. Wood said. She added that she posts about areas with especially high amounts of litter in the Facebook group and other volunteers will visit that area to help pick up garbage.
“These trails and these beaches — they’re for everybody, and we need to work hard to keep them pristine so we have a place to go during these hard times,” she said. “I would just love to see this program grow. I love cleanup days that organizations put together, but you have to be there at a certain time on certain days.
“This, you can do whenever you want. I keep my stuff in my car. It’s just any time I have some time, and that’s what I love about it.”
World Water Day is Monday, and this year’s theme is “The Value of Water,” which is why volunteers signed up to clean up Santa Barbara County’s beaches. All volunteers had to do to participate was sign up for a beach, complete a waiver, gather supplies like bags and gloves or ask for a kit and share photos of the trash they picked up and they could be eligible for prizes.
Ben Pitterle is Channelkeeper’s interim executive director and former science and policy director. He came along with Ms. Wood Saturday morning to Leadbetter Beach, picking up every piece of garbage he could find, no matter the size.
“We put this program together because during COVID, we saw a lot of increased visitation to our trails, swimming holes and outdoor places, and with that came a really big increase in litter,” he told the News-Press. “We wanted to do something about it, but because of social distancing, we couldn’t go out in big teams, so we had the idea to try to rally and encourage people to work individually.”
He said the program encourages people to go anywhere and pick up trash for at least 30 minutes. In addition, since Channelkeeper is a 501(c)(3) organization, staff members can sign off on service hours for students.
“We’re even trying to work with businesses to sign up as well and create some friendly competition,” Mr. Pitterle said. He added that participants filling up one single bag of trash may not seem like much, but, “When there’s a ton of people doing that all the time, it makes a big impact.”
“Doing it together and sharing how much — it feels like you’re part of a team,” he said. “It just feels good. It’s one of those projects that’s just all positive all around.”
Volunteers will continue cleaning all day today to finish the tall task of clearing all county beaches of trash. To learn more or sign up to volunteer, visit https://www.sbck.org/brigade/.