For over a century, residents and businesses largely treated the Petaluma River as a dumping ground.
And although the environmental movement changed some of these attitudes, the problem persists to this day.
Petaluma resident Steve Jette, a retired iron worker and volunteer with the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, regularly finds construction debris tossed into the river as well as cans, fast food bags and other detrius of modern life.
Still, the 65-year-old was shocked when he recently discovered a veritable cache of hazardous waste in the river, including old computers, printers, a vacuum cleaner, car seat and at least 10 tires.
This Tuesday morning, dressed in thigh-high rubber boots, Jette waded into the cool water and, for a moment, stood contemplating about how to remove the junk, some of it submerged in water, some of it sticking to the river bank.
“It’s beautiful here, but most people don’t associate the river with that,” Jette said, looking around the oaks, willows and eucalyptus trees that shade the narrow waterway just north of Corona Road, an area known as Denman Reach.
Local group Friends of the Petaluma River is planning a community cleanup on Saturday, May 4. But Jette wants to rally residents to walk local streams and the banks of the Petaluma River to look for waste sites as soon as possible and report what they find to him or the authorities.
Chemicals from electronics can leak into the waterways, while other large items block the flow of water and increase flood risk. And when the spring rains come, the junk will be moved downstream, making it more difficult to spot.
“We need people to do reconnaissance and report back to us on what they see,” Jette said. “They can pick up trash and at the same time discover the water.”
The Petaluma River Cleanup will be held on May 4. For more information, visit Friends of the Petaluma River at friendsofthepetalumariver.org. To report waste in or along the river, contact the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board at (510) 622-2300. To reach Steve Jette, call (707) 765-1928.