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Our Backyard Garbage Patch in Laguna de Santa Rosa


Our Backyard Garbage Patch in Laguna de Santa Rosa

By Wendy Trowbridge, The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation

We have all heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but how many of us know about the Great Laguna Garbage Patch in our own backyard? Between Guerneville Road and River Road, trash and wood debris have been building up in the channel for years. On September 17th the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, the Sonoma County Water Agency and Social Advocates for Youth got together to celebrate a massive clean-up effort. 

“Now Sections of the Laguna that have been buried under debris for years are flowing freely,” said Water Agency assistant general manager Mike Thompson. “Not only does this benefit the community by reducing flood risks, but the newly cleared channel will allow salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream to spawn.”

Our Backyard Garbage Patch, The Laguna de Santa Rosa FoundationForty people, including press, and the local landowner that made this partnership possible gathered around a large pile of garbage – all pulled from the Laguna by members of the Sonoma Ecology Corps, many of whom were on hand to be personally thanked by 4th District Supervisor James Gore. Mr. Gore spoke about the need for more cooperative projects and partnerships between agencies, land-owners, and non profits. To emphasize his points, a loud pair of belted kingfishers circled over the gathering – these colorful birds fish by diving headfirst into streams and rivers, and would have not been able to hunt here with piles of trash clogging the channel. 

Like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the movement of water in the Laguna brings together all the litter from the watershed into one big patch. If you lose a soccer ball in Cotati, or a plastic water bottle in Santa Rosa it all eventually winds up in the lower Laguna. When the creeks rise in the winter, they pick up debris from their banks and the storm water system and carry it downstream. Then when this fast-flowing water from the creeks hits the flat Laguna and the backwater from the Russian River, it slows down and drops whatever it is carrying. Historically what the creeks were carrying was wood and sediment from upstream. Now they are carrying everything from televisions to tennis balls. 

This mess traps sediment, builds up the height of the channel, blocks fish migration and floods the local farms. Farms along the Laguna have always flooded in the winter, but now, as the channel fills up, spring and even summer rains are inundating their fields and drowning their crops. Every year they have to wait later and later to plant.

This summer Sonoma Ecology Corps (SCYEC) members spent eight hot sweaty weeks working with local landowners to haul debris out of the channel. Thanks to their hard work, the Laguna should drain faster next spring and flow freely all summer.

“This program is a win-win-win. The Laguna is cleaner, flooding is reduced and young people get hands on work experience and a paycheck,” said Matt Martin, CEO of Social Advocates for Youth, which hired and trained the SCYEC crew. “The young people also become vocal advocates for the Laguna and for a cleaner environment.”

Now we all need to work together to get the word out that our trash doesn’t just wash “away” when the rivers come up. That dead tree that you cut down next to the creek won’t just disappear once it floats downstream. We need to keep everything from Fido’s favorite tennis ball to last year’s Christmas tree out of our streams and storm water drains. 

On October 17 The Laguna Foundation is hosting a trash clean up event with the City of Sebastopol in their Laguna Wetlands Preserve so that we can all clean up our backyard park before the rains start this winter. Bring your gloves and help us keep your Laguna trash-free! MEET at the Laguna Youth Park on Morris Street in Sebastopol by the Sebastopol Community Center, 390 Morris Street, Sebastopol  at 9am. For more details see