What You Can Do for a Cleaner River


A bit of pollution from your backyard, from your neighbor two doors down, your place of work or your favorite store. All throughout the watershed, small amounts of pollution accumulate to have a detrimental impact on local waterways. Just as each of us can negatively affect water quality, each one of us can be part of positive solutions, resulting in a cleaner, healthier San Lorenzo River, for everyone.

That’s why the Coastal Watershed Council, in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz, has launched a public information campaign to engage Santa Cruz residents and business owners in reducing common bacterial pollutants entering the San Lorenzo River. Three common sources of human and human-caused bacteria that are affecting your waterways include:

  1. Leaking sewer laterals that connect your home to the sewer main
  2. Dry season, human caused flows into storm drains
  3. Pet waste left out in yards and open spaces

Eliminating human and human-caused bacteria in your own environment is a critical step towards a swimmable, fishable river for your community and your kids to enjoy. Read on to learn how you can help.

Storm drain gutters on your street move rain water untreated into local waterways including the San Lorenzo River and Monterey Bay. The City of Santa Cruz sweeps streets and vacuums out storm drains to make sure they’re functioning before winter storms arrive. During dry weather, these same storm drains need to be kept dry.

Water can enter the storm drain system during dry weather months because of human activity. By cleaning off the grill in your driveway, washing the dog, or overwatering a garden, water can run off of your property, into the street and down the storm drain.

When water enters the storm drain system during dry weather months, there’s not enough flow to flush it through the system, so it stagnates, and bacteria known as biofilm can grow. Then, when the next storms arrive and stormwater flushes the system, this bacteria washes into the river.

You can do your part to ensure only clean stormwater reaches your street gutters. Pick up trash, dispose of household chemicals properly and stop water from going down the storm drain by washing your car at a car wash or tending to a leaky sprinkler. When there is no rain, gutters should be dry.

A private sewer lateral is a pipe that moves wastewater from your home to the sewer main running under the street. Businesses and homeowners are responsible for making sure their private sewer laterals are maintained, just as the City of Santa Cruz maintains the sewer main pipes.

Over time sewer laterals may crack and can even collapse, leaking sewage into your yard, into the groundwater or storm drains, eventually entering the river or ocean. While major failures are often detected simply by the smell in the air, minor failures could be happening right now, without you being aware. The best way to keep any human bacteria from entering the river is to have your sewer lateral inspected by a plumber.

Pet waste does not biodegrade like other animal waste and can contain harmful bacteria and viruses like E. coli, giardia, salmonella and cryptosporidium. Whether it is in your backyard, a public sidewalk or at the park, pet waste that is not disposed of eventually gets washed into the storm drain system or directly into local creeks. People that come in contact with that polluted water downstream can get sick. Be a poop fairy to your pet by picking up after your pet immediately and throwing it away.