A program to step up efforts to collect litter and debris before it taints the fragile Upper Newport Bay was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors voted 4 to 0 to allow the county Environmental Management Agency to expand its cleanup efforts in the flood-control channels that empty into the bay. Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder was absent.
Beginning next month, the EMA will add another inmate crew to the seven already scouring the channels. In addition, the teams of court-ordered laborers will now extend their efforts to a year-round basis, public works manager Tom Connelie said.
The supervisors on Tuesday also approved the transfer of two road maintenance employees to the increased cleanup effort, converting them to inmate crew supervisors. In a third move, the supervisors endorsed giving greater emphasis to the Adopt-a-Facility program, a county effort to encourage volunteers to clean the channels.
Widening the scope of litter collection among the network of concrete feeder channels will ease the effort to keep the bay clean, Connelie said. Scouring the dry channels is cheaper than filtering debris out of the bay's waters and eliminates the material's initial damage to the environment.
"So that's our game plan," Connelie said. "It's a lot easier to clean this up at the source than wait for it to reach the back bay."
Besides the piles of cans, wastepaper and other litter, Connelie said, the crews collect plant life that grows in the summer, dies and then gets washed by rain into the bay with the other refuse.
The San Diego Creek Channel, which runs next to Alton Parkway in Irvine before dipping down toward the bay, is one of the channels that sends the most garbage directly into Upper Newport Bay.
"People throw stuff out their car window, it gets blown into the channel and then after it rains, it goes straight to the bay," Connelie said. "Unless we can get it first."
The county will spend $135,000 this year to clean flood channels, with most of the money going toward staffing and equipment costs. Connelie said the staggered crews will work seven days a week under the expanded effort.