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Heavy Rains Leave Waterways in County Sullied With Debris : Environment: Officials hope volunteers will help clean up the paper, plastic and mounds of other litter swept along with the torrents.

March 28, 1995|IRA E. STOLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The floodwaters have receded. The mud puddles have dried. But the winter's relentless rains have left a kind of outdoor bathtub ring on the banks of the county's waterways: litter.

"I think it's disgusting. It's terrible," said Bill Morrison, 49, a Simi Valley machinist out for a morning walk, gazing at the foam cups and plastic bags beached on the banks of the Arroyo Simi. Upstream, a fraying blue blanket hugged a rock, and the worn plastic wheels of a skateboard jutted out above the water's surface.

Public works officials say the rain functions as a shower, washing trash off streets and storm drains. When the rushing rivers recede, what's left is paper and plastic.

"Any time you have water washing down, stuff comes down with it," said Bert Duzy, who maintains arroyos for several Thousand Oaks homeowner associations. "It does get downright ugly."

While a storm-related, 10-million-gallon sewage spill in the Arroyo Conejo earlier this month drew most of the attention, the litter remains weeks after the storms. Besides spoiling the view, the trash can slow the flow of water causing flooding upstream.

At the mouth of the mighty Ventura River, a soggy sweater was stuck in the sand along with a 24-foot length of pink plastic pipe and an assortment of soda bottles and beer cans.

Along a tiny private arroyo in the North Ranch neighborhood of Thousand Oaks, sheets of clear plastic clung to trees along with potato chip bags and empty raisin boxes.

"It's a mess," said Robert Rahn, 54, on dry land amid the rivulets of water at Conejo Creek Park in Thousand Oaks. "Somebody should clean it up, I think."

City and parks officials said they will rely on volunteers for much of the cleanup work. While some homeowner associations use dues to pay for professional work crews, the network of publicly maintained waterways is so vast that those in charge are asking for help.

"It would be a good Scout project or something," said John Van Tilburg, superintendent of Wildwood Park.

The city of Thousand Oaks plans a community cleanup day in September, said Mohammed Fatemi, senior sewer engineer. A similar drive last year, before the floods, yielded 700 pounds of trash, including three shopping carts that were returned to a nearby supermarket, Fatemi said.

Ventura County Flood Control, which maintains the bulk of the county's waterways, has 58 people working year-round clearing creeks and channels, hydrologist Dolores Taylor said.

"The main thing we try to do by Nov. 1 of each year is to have everything as spiffy as we can get it," Taylor said. The cleanup can take the entire season, she said, as workers wait for waterways to dry out and prioritize their work, first cleaning the areas that are likely to stay clean.

Taylor said the first storm of the year produces the most litter--everything that has piled up during the summer.

Authorities said not all the litter was deposited by this winter's floodwaters. Some of the trash is dumped directly into the waterways, and some has accumulated from the rains of past years.

Those charged with keeping the creeks clean also said they try to sweep up the litter on the streets before the rain washes it onto rocky shores.

No matter how clean the streets are, though, the waterways after heavy winter rains are not a pretty sight.

"Everything flows downhill," said Ray Treader, maintenance services engineer for Simi Valley. "Any kind of litter that's on the street goes right in there with the storm water."

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