Area waterways cleaned up

Groups, volunteers collect debris

Judy Gordon waded in the bank of Lake Olmstead, reached beneath algae and plant life and grimaced as she pulled out a rusted can of V8 vegetable juice.

"It's things like these, and shredded pits of Styrofoam and plastic that clogs up the gills of fish and kill life in the water," said Gordon, a biology professor at Augusta State University and co-chairwoman of Sierra Club Savannah River Group.

Gordon and about 250 volunteers spent Saturday morning cleaning trash from waterways around Richmond County for the Rivers Alive Community Wide Waterways Cleanup.

It was the second river cleanup this year from the Community Partners for Clean Waterways, a joint effort of three local environmental groups and volunteers.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said volunteers collected four tons of garbage during this year's spring cleanup. The 2009 fall cleanup brought in six tons, and the group's goal was to collect eight tons before the end of Saturday.

"If it weren't for these rivers, we wouldn't be here," Bonitatibus said. "Everything we do relies on them."

Community Partners provided trash bags and gloves for volunteers, and Augusta-Richmond County Parks and Recreation provided a barbecue lunch when they finished their work at noon.

Gordon said in her years of river cleanups, she has collected items ranging from cigarette butts to car tires.

"Out here I've seen socks, underwear, plastic bottles, you name it," she said.

Bonitatibus said people will often toss unwanted appliances and metal equipment into the waterways, seeing them as easy disposable areas.

Organizers sent volunteers to almost every waterway in the area and used four boats to collect trash from the hard-to-reach marshes and banks.

Duane Wilson and his daughter, Emily, 11, set out on a red canoe to collect whatever trash they could reach in Lake Olmstead.

"We haven't even left the dock -- it's been five minutes and we already almost have an entire trash bag filled," Wilson said, holding up a bag full of plastic bottles and wrappers.

How you can help

The Community Partners for Clean Waterways is an alliance of the Savannah Riverkeeper, the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and Augusta Parks and Recreation.

The group is organizing a Nov. 6 river cleanup in Savannah. Those interested in volunteering can contact Savannah Riverkeeper at info @savannahriverkeeper.org or (706) 826-8991.