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Clean Water Action

Operation Clean Sweep volunteers clean Chollas Creek.
San Diego Port Tenants Association
Operation Clean Sweep volunteers clean Chollas Creek.
Clean Water Action
What's lurking at the bottom of San Diego Bay? For the last 21 years hundreds of volunteers have gathered each summer for Operation Clean Sweep.


Sharon Cloward, President of San Diego Port Tenants association

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. A cleanup that has become a San Diego tradition takes place this weekend. Operation Clean Sweep will employ divers and hundreds of volunteers to clean up San Diego bay. The cleanup has expanded and changed its focus in its 21 years. Joining us to talk about this year's Clean Sweep is Sharon Cloward. She's president of San Diego port tenets association. Hello.


CLOWARD: Hello. Thanks for having us.

CAVANAUGH: You're very welcome. Now, if you've been involved in Ia bay cleanup through the years, give us a call, tell us what it was like, and the kinds of things you found. Or if you think the bay could use better maintenance, our number is 1-888-895-5727. Now, it's my understanding, Sharon, that you decided to focus on the Southbay this year. Why is that?

CLOWARD: We have five port cities that surround our San Diego bay. And what we try to do is bring those groups to the various areas of the bay. The Southbay has protected wildlife down there. Over the year, we used to do our event in the beginning of June, the day before the rock and roll marathon, in fact. We moved our event to the end of August, so we can get to some of these sensitive bird-nesting areas while they're not nesting. And so Chula Vista is a natural area that we would be working on.

CAVANAUGH: Give us an idea of the kind of sweep this operation clean sweep has. Where will you be?

CLOWARD: Yes, this year, we're going to be cleaning eight sites. We do this not on our own through the port tenants, but we use the Navy, the coast guard; we have civilian and Navy divers. We have our industrial tenants. The nice thing about our port, if you think about looking at our bay, you have hospitality, marine recreation, you have industrial. So we use all of those sources, and those resources to actually clean up our bay. So this year, when we're doing the A eight anchorage. And that's in the area between Chula Vista and National City where the 24 street channel comes in. We'll have our Navy divers out there, we have a bay side park cleanup that we're doing in Chula Vista that's right about the Chula Vista marina that's kind of kid friendly. Duke energy where the Southbay power plant is going to be coming down soon. We're doing a cleanup up there. Choyas Creek, which is an area up by the pac ship and our shipyards. And every year we focused on that area. That takes eight of crane operation because there's a lot of debris that comes down there from various places.


CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that this cleanup started 21 years ago. How did it -- how did it start? I mean, was San Diego bay getting really dirty? Did you notice that at the time?

CLOWARD: Well, it's funny you ask that. In 1990, there was an association called the Marine trades association. They wanted to create an event, put an environmental spin on it. But when you think about marine trades, they were actually promoting gets ports and divers out into the water at the same time they can get ports into boat yards to get fixed to get them out on the water. So it was more of a trade purpose for it. Then in 1999, the Marine trades association merged with us. We had a lot of environmental attention, as you know, in the mid90s to the late 90s. So our association looked at it, and it was a great opportunity to take that event and fro that event. We have done that when it was the Marine trades association put it on, they had probably an average of 150 to 200 volunteers. Our first year that we did our event in 1999 was 600 volunteers. So it really grew. And today, we actually were sold out this year as far as volunteers. We max if out at a thousand people to help because it is -- there's a lot of sites to clean, you have to have a lot of people to manage those. But we do max at a thousand, and that happy to say this year, we reached our goal.

CAVANAUGH: So don't volunteer for this year's event because those places have been taken. If our listeners would like to chime in with any stories about being part of this effort, you can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. One of the ways that I know that you've publicized this clean sweep cleanup each year is to tell people the surprising things that you found during previous cleanups. So give it to us again. What are some of those things that you've actually found in the bay or around it?

CLOWARD: Well, you see, we found some of the normal things that you see around our creeks and such. Tires, for some reason. They keep coming back. We find tires and shopping carts probably because of maybe some of the homeless people around there. But from some of the unusual things, we found bicycles, which maybe they fell off a boat. I don't know. Maybe they came down one of the creeks. A bubble gum machine. An old fashioned telephone, an English old-fashioned telephone still on the pole.

CAVANAUGH: I remember that. Yes.

CLOWARD: A large clock. We had a couple messages in a bottle to loved ones, which we always thought was interesting. A baby stroller. And we used to find batteries. We don't find those as much anymore. I think that's the awareness of doing this event.

CAVANAUGH: And how much debris do you find in the bay each year? Is it going down or is it sort of standard?

CLOWARD: Well, because we've changed our site from two years ago, now that we're in the nature center, and some of those other areas, the weight of stuff that we're finding, and there's logs, old cement docks and stuff. So there's as much debris, but it's different debris. As far as the reason we had a focus in a different area is because the sites that we've cleaned before, we've cleaned up over 42 sites in San Diego bay. Those areas are much, much improved. Like the marinas, you don't have people throwing things off their boat anymore. I think there's just much more attention to detail. The storm drains are getting better. People are thinking about what you put in there ends up in our bear. So I think there's been a lot of attention on that.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Sharon Cloward, she's president of the San Diego port tenant's association. We're talking about the 21st annual operation Clean Sweep. That's taking place at various locations around San Diego bay this weekend. You told us already that there are Navy divers who are involved in cleaning the areas around those sensitive habitats. And also the bottom of the bay.


CAVANAUGH: How much trash accumulates down there?

CLOWARD: Well, you know, we have sunken boats that are still in this one area, the AA anchorage, and we refer it to it as the AA Anchorage, but it used to be the free anchorage for ports. People use it as a dumping ground. So we have focused on that area every year for about five years, along with the port. They actually have hired crew to pull out some of the sunken boats and stuff. That's a pretty heavy industrial cleanup if there. It's not getting worse. It's actually getting much better. Every time we look at the charts, how much have we done. So I'm expecting we'll probably be able to finish that up in the next couple years. We'll focus on that. That is really the last of all places deep in our bay. We send divers out every year prior to manning this to make sure the areas that we are going to dive, that there is trash.

CAVANAUGH: And how much does the Navy itself contribute to the debris found in the bay?

CLOWARD: We can't do it without the Navy. The Navy also sends families -- oh, oh, you're saying how much do they contribute? Oh, I think the only thing we've found that's Navy contributed. Most of the things are household things, I think we found a bag of shotgun shells from one time. And they're still not sure if it's the Navy. Really, it's residents' stuff that we're finding. We're not even finding marine toilets. We're finding toilets that we'd find in a house. So everything that we're seeing now is something that's coming maybe from a house or resident more than it is from someone who was a user in the bay.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. We have a caller on the line. Rosalind is calling us from Ocean Beach. Good afternoon, Rosalind, welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. Every time I walk, I just take two wrappers, two plastic wrappers, I don't even have to go buy gloves, and one of them I put around my hand, and the other one I just scoop up the trash that I find. Because everything there, like you said, it will end up in the ocean. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for calling in, Rosalind. And that goes directly to the idea of this awareness growing among people about what they put in any water source, really. Of in storm drains and so forth becoming part of the pollution of San Diego bay. How about generationally? What are kids learning about this?

CLOWARD: I think it's unbelievable how -- first of all, a lot of people bring their kids out. And to bring your kid out, we do make it a fun party by awarding them on the most unique trash. And I think that brings an attention to a kid that they get excited. They like a party at the end. But I have a little story. My daughter who has been doing operation Clean Sweep since she was two years old. In 5th grade he had to do an exhibition to graduate, and she did it on operation Clean Sweep 'cause she's learned a lot. And she has cleaned up various things. We were putting her program into -- I live in a condo, and there are four units there. And one of the people that lived there has some kind of business where he gives box deliveries and has a lot of nose popcorn thing that is come in there. So she sees the popcorn on the floor of the garage and sees the storm drain, and she freaks out. She's going oh, my God! That's where all that popcorn's coming from! It's from Daren! It's coming from Daren! So I looked at that, and I thought, wow, I never told her that. And to see that she had learned something, a story just like that. And I'm sure that there are many more stories like that. Somebody coming with their parents to this function that's family friendly, we're all users of the bay, we all appreciate the bay. And I'm sure there are many more stories that are similar to what my daughter experienced.

CAVANAUGH: And yet as a counter balance to that would be the economy. Because the tires that you keep finding, is the theory about that that is costs people to turn in tires and so they just dump them?

CLOWARD: Yes. There has to be. I was convinced up at Choyas Creek, there was a tire company. I drove up there to see if there was a tire company dumping those. But Choyas unique because it goes through various cities. So the only thing we can figure out is the stream always comes downward, so it could be multiple people up that whole creek who might have -- just throw it over your fence it goes in the creek. Out of sight out of mind. So we've been working with the cities to possibly put more signage so it's a fine to put things in our creek. And I think that will help. And hopefully we'll see less tires. We also work with a great company, EdCo, and they help dispose of all the of the trash. And they have been good of taking all our tires too, when we do find them, which is great.

CAVANAUGH: As you said this developed because they wanted to have more business on the bay. And I'm thinking, you know, there are so many businesses now, and residents in downtown San Diego, and of course our tourists, I would imagine that it's more important than ever to keep the bay really looking good. Of.

CLOWARD: Absolutely. I'm a roller blader as well. And I roller blade around the bay all the time. When you look at prevailing winds in San Diego bay, they come to the one side, they come toward the Convention Center, sea port village, and of those natural bays capture debris. We worked with the port, the port got grand funding to have these things that look like a dock box, but they have a vacuum set up on it, so it is constantly capturing the debris floating on top of the bay. You look down and you see a bunch of floating stuff down there. So the boxes have worked well, and we're hoping the port will get more of those.

CAVANAUGH: Is there anything else the port might do? Any suggestions you have for them to upkeep the maintenance of the bay?

CLOWARD: I think the port has some excellent practices out there. Environmental committee that they have, they actually put funding into that committee. Self-committees the port has, and working with environmental groups as well as our tenants. We've both got many ways to fund programs that earn incentives for cleaning our bay clean. I think they're done a really good job on that. I think we're proactive on that side, and that's probably one area we focus on the most these days.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I hope you have good weather.

CLOWARD: I heard it's going to be mid 75 which is perfect for us.

CAVANAUGH: And good luck this weekend.

CLOWARD: Great. Thank you again for having us.