Last week the City completed its 24th successful River Rally. SCOPE (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment) has been a proud participant in the Environmental Expo at this event since its inception and I have personally missed the event only once in all this time.
Why? Because it is an amazing and wonderful experience to see all the Boy and Girl Scouts, local high school environmental clubs and local families with kids in tow out taking care of and learning about our watershed.
So many people are unaware of the importance of our river to the well-being of our community. They don’t realize that it is the source of a good part of our water supply and that it is home to a great variety of plants and animals, some of which are endangered. Some don’t even realize that we have a river, even though it is the last mostly free-flowing river in Los Angeles County and one of only two in all of Southern California.
People who grew up in Santa Clarita often refer to it as “the wash,” not a river at all, because the upper reaches are dry on the surface. (The water is still there, just flowing underground, but they have never learned about it).
Realizing that people couldn’t take pride in their river without knowing that they have one, SCOPE worked with College of the Canyons service learning program students and a Girl Scout working on her silver badge in a volunteer effort that resulted in the blue Santa Clara River signs now posted on both sides of every bridge in Santa Clarita.
But the city’s 24 years of river rallies have been an even more priceless tool for educating our community about our river and how to take care of it. What better way for kids to learn about how destructive trash can be to the natural environment than going out and helping to pick it up. Then afterward, they can see exhibits of native plants at the California Native Plant Society booth, learn about local critters at the Placerita Nature Center booth, view watershed maps and learn about wildlife corridors at our booth or the Friends of the Santa Clara River’s booths, more hiking opportunities at the Sierra Club booth, what climate change might do to our community at the Citizen’s Climate Lobby booth, and the list goes on.
The water agency and sanitation district always participate too, talking about their agencies’ involvement with the river.
But this year I have to voice two concerns. It is time for the city to stop passing out plastic water bottles! Plastic bottles are not good for the earth, and are often the very trash that rally participants are picking up. They are made from petroleum, incur far greater transportation impacts to greenhouse gases than tap water, and add to our trash problem.
I know the City wants to make sure people are well hydrated, but here’s what can be done instead:
• Encourage people to bring their own drinking water bottles in all the event advertising. Everyone has them at home. They just need to remember to bring them.
• Provide a water refill station to fill participants’ water bottles. Portable dispensing tanks on wheels can be rented and rolled to the rally location.
• Give away reusable drinking water bottles (you have done this in the past — I even own one!), that can be refilled at the water dispensing station.
• Work with the water agency to make all this happen. (Maybe they would sponsor the portable dispensing station?)
With all the plastic trash coming from rivers such as ours and ending up in the ocean where it hurts sea life, it is time to change our ways. The River Rally is the perfect place to begin making this change.
My second concern is that for the first time ever the city allowed a developer to have a booth in the River Rally Environmental Expo. Most people, including most in the Environmental Expo, would hardly call the developer of New-hall Ranch “environmental.”
Not only will the development be extremely detrimental to the river and its wildlife by burying the river’s floodplain in the development area under 200 million cubic yards of dirt, but it will also add to the severe air pollution and traffic in our valley with its projected 357,000 traffic trips per day. This is not to mention the questions that remain over the water supply that will now come from wells that supply existing residents.
With the city turning Earth Day into a for-profit “Home and Garden” show, many of us now wonder whether the River Rally’s Environmental Expo will remain an educational event or become a PR opportunity for local developers.
We all hope it is the former.
Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.