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Local groups seek help clearing storm debris, trash from O.C. beaches and wetlands

Spencer Clark picks up small pieces of trash along the jetty at the mouth of the Santa Ana River.
Spencer Clark, a Newport Beach resident, picks up small pieces of trash along the jetty at the mouth of the Santa Ana River in Newport Beach on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)
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Now that rain has moved out of Orange County weather forecasts, local environmental groups are rallying volunteers to help clear local beaches, flood channels and marshes of debris and trash that backed up into waterways in recent weeks.

Organizations that typically host community cleanup events have been spreading the word this week about urgent gatherings being held to respond to a greater than usual buildup of refuse.

Two events on Saturday morning — a beach cleanup around the Newport Beach Pier and a trash clearing at Huntington Beach’s Brookhurst Marsh — are seeking volunteers.

Inland Empire students collected 200 pounds of trash Thursday during a post-rain cleanup of Huntington State Beach.
Inland Empire students collected 200 pounds of trash Thursday during a post-rain cleanup of Huntington State Beach.
(Courtesy of Orange County Coastkeepers)

The nonprofit Orange County Coastkeeper holds ongoing monthly coastal cleanups, on San Clemente State Beach on the first Saturday of each month and at Huntington State Beach every third Saturday.

But staff have organized an additional gathering near the Newport Beach pier this Saturday, from 9 to 11 a.m., after a city administrator contacted the group with a special request, according to program coordinator Irene Cordero.

“[They] wanted to inquire about whether we were having any cleanups soon or could make something happen,” Cordero said Thursday. “During the storms there was a good amount of flooding in the Inland Empire, and usually a lot of water comes down through the Santa Ana River.”

Local groups are organizing volunteer events this weekend to help clean up debris washed onto beaches by recent rain storms.
Local groups are organizing volunteer events this weekend to help clean up debris washed onto beaches by recent rain storms.
(Courtesy of Orange County Coastkeeper)

In addition to heavy amounts of rainwater, the river is known for carrying trash and debris from inland areas toward coastal lowlands and, ultimately, the ocean. A group of eighth graders on a field trip from the Inland Empire collected more than 200 pounds at Huntington State Beach on Thursday morning.

Cordero said Newport Beach city officials described seeing plastic chairs and other large items deposited onto the beach among the seaweed. Saturday’s special post-rain cleanup meets near the Newport Pier, by Lifeguard Tower 22.

Volunteers are asked to register ahead of time by visiting coastkeeper.org/cleanup-oc and clicking on the “January 21” link under the “Special Event” section, although day-of registration is also possible.

Extra hands are also being requested Saturday morning, from 9 a.m. to noon, when the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy hosts a special trash pickup at Brookhurst Marsh, near the organization’s headquarters at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway.

Items washed onto Huntington State Beach by recent storms were gathered Thursday by student volunteers with O.C. Coastkeeper.
(Courtesy of Orange County Coastkeeper)

John Villa, executive director for the nonprofit conservancy, said staff hold some sort of volunteer event on the third Saturday of each month, rain or shine.

Given the enormous amount of debris deposited by local waterways into flood channels, whose water levels rise and fall with the tides, it made sense to concentrate volunteer efforts on the marsh, the trash’s last stop before reaching the Pacific.

“That trash just sits there on the edge of the marsh,” Villa said Thursday. “It comes down the flood channel and, unfortunately, we are more or less the filtering station before it gets to the ocean.”

Volunteers of all ages are welcome to join in Saturday’s cleanup, which meets at the corner of PCH and Newland Street at 9 a.m. in Huntington Beach, by emailing john@hbwetlands.org ahead of the event. For more, visit hbwetlands.org.

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