Basura Bash: The Big San Antonio River Clean-Up

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More trash awaits the 2014 Basura Bash volunteers. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

More trash awaits the 2014 Basura Bash volunteers. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

San Antonio has always had a litter problem. Despite the best efforts of city government to create programs like bulky item pickup, the issue persists. Much of the litter gets washed into creeks and rivers during storms, only to be caught in trees and brush along the banks as the floodwaters recede.

Fortunately, San Antonio also has a great history of volunteerism. Every year, legions of volunteers participate in the largest San Antonio River clean-up, Basura Bash (“basura” is Spanish for “trash”).

Volunteers fan out to collect trash along the San Antonio River during the 2013 Basura Bash. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

Volunteers fan out to collect trash along the San Antonio River during the 2013 Basura Bash. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

For 2014, the annual event takes place this Saturday, Feb. 22, from 9 a.m. until noon. More volunteers are always needed for this event; call 210-858-8520 to sign up (online registration is now closed for this year).

They are sent out with hundreds of trash bags to comb the creekbeds, where they pick up an amazing quantity of trash. According to the Basura Bash website, a record 61.56 tons of trash and 7.99 tons of recyclables were recovered by 2,400 volunteers in 2007.

This 1970's-vintage Datsun was recovered from Leon Creek. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

This 1970s, vintage Datsun was recovered from Leon Creek in 2013. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

Last year, the amount was a more modest – but still startling: 22 tons of trash and five tons of metal, collected by 2,535 volunteers. They even pulled a Datsun out of Leon Creek.

What are the root causes of our litter problem? Education and culture are definitely part of it The volume of litter visible during a walk around Mark Twain Middle School in the Alta Vista neighborhood demonstrates that many of our children are developing this habit early in life.

Our love of pickup trucks is undoubtedly another issue. Many people use their truck beds as a virtual garbage bin – and we’ve all seen that trash flying out of the pickup beds as they speed down the freeway. Cups, cans, plastic bags, you name it.

Even more egregious are the thoughtless individuals who throw their cigarette butts and other garbage out the window. Eventually, much of this refuse finds its way into our waterways.

The seriousness of our litter problem can easily be seen by taking a drive along Devine Road in the Olmos Basin. Even after cleanup efforts, thousands upon thousands of plastic bags are lodged in tree branches. It’s an almost overwhelming problem.

Plastic bags dot the landscape along the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

Plastic bags dot the landscape along the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

Long-time Basura Bash chairman Bob Tome passed away in 2013. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

Long-time Basura Bash chairman Bob Tome passed away in 2013. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

The Basura Bash organization has been working diligently since 1995 to combat this issue, with a measurable amount of success – over 450 tons collected since its inception.

This year’s event is a bittersweet one for the hardworking volunteers that organize this event due to the passing of Bob Tome, a long-time chairman of the organization who died of cancer last year.

The 2014 Basura Bash is being dedicated to him and his tireless efforts to keep our waterways clean.

To expand the effort to keep our creek and river beds clean year round, the San Antonio River Authority recently initiated the Watershed Wise Warriors program. Every month, there will be a variety of activities, such as cleanup efforts, ecosystem restoration and education. The program will be open to residents of Bexar, Wilson, Karnes and Goliad counties.

According to SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott, “The goal of this program is to empower our residents to make a difference by improving the environment through service and education.”

www-logoActivities will usually take place on weekends, and most activities will be applicable towards community service hours. Participants who sign up at the SARA website will receive monthly emails with information on upcoming events, as well as reviews of past events.

However, the bottom line is that the main cause of this problem is us – littering humans. This bahavior needs to be eliminated, or at least reduced as much as possible. Education is key to combating this problem. The well-regarded “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign was established in 1985 and it continues to work well. Recently, the campaign has distributed Texas-themed trash barrels throughout the state. In San Antonio, you can find them at Sea World and in front of the Liberty Bar in King William.

The war on litter continues.

This Don't Mess With Texas-themed trash barrel greets visitors to the Liberty Bar. Photo courtesy Don't Mess With Texas.

This Don’t Mess With Texas-themed trash barrel greets visitors to the Liberty Bar. Photo courtesy of Don’t Mess With Texas.

*Featured/top photo: More trash awaits the 2014 Basura Bash volunteers. Photo courtesy Basura Bash.

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