Protect and Conserve: The Small Stuff Counts!

So grateful for this last rain!  The rain washes everything, nourishes our soil and plants, and offers us an opportunity to observe change and evolution in our landscapes and communities.  With 0.5 - 1.4" recorded throughout San Diego County for this last storm, even the smallest roof yielded hundreds of gallons.  Thinking of all the tanks scattered around the county filling up, creating hundreds of thousands of gallons of local water storage, I can't help but be reminded that all of our small efforts combine to create a big effect.   If all of us reduced our landscaping water use by 50%, we would reduce our imported water needs by 20%.  

Cigarette butts accumulate at a freeway offramp after the rain.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that all the small damaging things we do without thinking can add up to devastating effect.  Yesterday, pulling off the freeway in Encinitas I saw a storm gutter littered with cigarette butts.  It looked like someone literally dumped their whole ashtray as they pulled off the freeway.  This was not one person's contibution.  This was the result of hundreds of people flicking a single cigarette out of their window as they drove down the freeway.  The rain accumulates this small debris in its flow paths.  The next big rain will wash these out into the ocean.  This isn't a one-off.  This is happening in storm gutters everywhere in the county.  All the trash on the sides of the freeways and on our neighborhood streets starts flowing when the rain comes.  All the storm drains lead to our waterways.  All our waterways lead to the ocean.  

Types of Trash Removed from Beaches in a 2015 joint cleanup by Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation

Types of Trash Removed from Beaches in a 2015 joint cleanup by Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation

Cigarette butts topped the list in 2015.
Yet again, cigarettes and cigarette butts were the most prevalent type of debris found at our beach cleanups. In 2014, volunteers removed 75,069 cigarette butts from our beaches, and this year that number rose to 79,083, despite decreases volunteers and in other trash types found. Littered butts continue to be a major concern for the health of San Diego County beaches. Cigarette butts are non-biodegradable and leach toxins into the water, poisoning marine life. They also move with ease through the City’s stormwater system, meaning a cigarette butt need not be dropped directly at the beach in order to find its way there eventually.

I see it happen all the time.  We get out of the car, and a small piece of something drops out of someone's full hands, or blows out of the car with a breeze.  If we don't make the effort to pay attention to these small moments or if we notice these things and decide "it's no big deal" and leave it to flutter away down the street, we are part of a cumulative problem that spells disaster for our environment.  Know before you surf!

We love San Diego!  We love the beaches, the mountains, the deserts, the neighborhoods.  Let's all stay alert and aware, contribute to the beauty and abundance of our local environment, and work toward keeping this beautiful place clean!  Join a beach cleanup!  

Take a workshop to learn more about the small things you can do at your own home to contribute a local water resource for San Diego!