There is no question that for most people, litter anywhere is not a pretty site. We like our neighborhoods and natural areas devoid of trash on the ground, so much so that a plastic bottle amongst the greenery along a path or road will catch our eye.
Unseen, and even more problematic, is the trash that makes its way to our creeks and rivers. Much of the litter on the land, a candy wrapper here or a Styrofoam cup there, is carried by stormwater across yards, sidewalks, and streets from all over cities and towns and into stormdrains. These stormdrains empty their contents of litter-filled water into our surrounding creeks and San Antonio River without treatment.
Hence, the dilemma of thousands of tons of litter filling our area’s precious and fragile creeks and rivers.
Litter in our waterways is not just a problem because of its unsightliness. Litter can do damage, real damage, to the water quality and the land surrounding the waterway. Litter influences the behaviors and health of the wildlife in and around the river. Litter in our creeks and rivers can impact your wellbeing, as well.
A single plastic bag can be mistaken as a meal for some wildlife placing their life in peril. Equally as perilous is the “rug” of floating plastic that can be mistaken as a place for a fish or bird to shelter or hunt, only to for them get stuck or hung up in the trash. Such a heap of litter, too, can reduce the amount of sunlight penetrating the water surface. Without sunlight, aquatic plants fail to grow and provide life-giving oxygen and food to foundational aquatic insects that fish dine on, thus breaking the food chain of a healthy ecosystem.
As litter accumulates along bends or as it gets snagged by vegetation in the river, it can build over time into a clog, diminish the water’s natural flow and act like a dam. Organisms are prevented from migrating for food or breeding, breaking their natural cycles. Erosion of the banks around these litter clogs becomes greater, and the resulting sediment set off a chain of events that deplete the water quality. The probability of flood also becomes greater, which increases the negative impact on land-based plants, animals, and, of course, families.
Plastics can and do sink to the bottom of our waterways and begin to break down into the tiniest of particles. These particles are so small that they are found in the tissues of the fish and birds that swim in them. This adverse phenomenon then magnifies in intensity as small fish are eaten by already impacted larger fish. Those at the top of the food chain accumulate the most of the plastic via ingestion where toxic chemicals can be released by the plastic.
Preventing litter from making its way to our creeks and river is highly preventable by simply throwing our trash, lawn clippings, and recyclable material away appropriately. Keeping our land clean keeps our water clean. Our San Antonio River is everyone’s river, and by doing our part, we can enjoy clean waters along with the wildlife.