Contact Form

    News Details

    Can trash flushed down San Gabriel River be stopped before it hits the beach?
    • January 19, 2024

    Take a stroll along the sand in Seal Beach and Long Beach near the San Gabriel River after it rains and you might wonder if you’re in a landfill.

    Trash often covers the usually pristine beach after a downpour, a scene that is not just unsightly and detrimental to the ocean’s health, but a visual that puts a spotlight on the challenges trying to control trash washed to the coast.

    A group of elected officials from local cities, counties and the state, as well as environmentalists, will gather in Seal Beach on Friday, Jan. 19, to brainstorm ideas on how to stop the flow of inland trash that ends up on the beach any time in rains.

    “The San Gabriel River is just a trash heap,” said Assemblymember Diane Dixon, who called for the gathering. “It’s hundreds of thousands of tons of trash. It lands in those boulders on the river wall, and it’s just horrendous trash.”

    The meeting is meant to be the first step in getting various agencies in the same room to talk about what needs to be done, what funding may be available, what technologies should be evaluated and conceptual planning, she said.

    As a previous member of the Newport Beach City Council, Dixon participated in planning for a water wheel trash interceptor in the Back Bay, which will be able to remove upward of 100,000 pounds of the trash flowing from the San Diego Creek and Santa Ana Delhi Channel before it reaches the estuary habitat, the Newport Harbor and the open ocean.

    A week of storms left trash and debris at the Seal Beach jetty in Seal Beach, CA on Friday, January 18, 2019. Free the Ocean, an ocean trivia website, raises money to help non-profit groups collect plastics from oceans and beaches. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Once in the legislature, she helped secure $1.5 million in state funds toward the trash wheel, which broke ground in September, following nearly a decade of planning. Expectations are it will start scooping up trash by December.

    Now, Dixon said she wonders not only if Seal Beach can use a similar method to keep its beaches clean, but if it can work in other trash-troubled areas.

    “I’d like to put a water wheel in every river that flows into the ocean in the state of California,” she said. “I want to spread the word to other cities. We have to stop this trash.”

    The San Gabriel River is an especially tricky puzzle, funneling runoff from 52 inland cities into the ocean, with trash and debris getting swept up in the water flowing down storm drains.

    While some cities have installed screens or capture systems – as required by the State Water Resource Control Board by December 2030 – thousands of tons of trash is still making its way down the concrete channel.

    Throughout the state, concrete channels were built decades ago to transport the water during heavy rains straight to the ocean, helping to direct and contain the gushing runoff to avoid flooding streets and neighborhoods.

    Trash and plant matter is piled up along the bank of the San Gabriel River just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean in Seal Beach on Tuesday morning, December 13, 2022. Recent heavy rains have sent trash flowing down the river from many miles inland. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Toward the north, the San Gabriel River receives drainage from 689 square miles of eastern Los Angeles County and releases it into the ocean at the border of Long Beach and Seal Beach.

    As populations boomed throughout Southern California, more trash was getting tossed onto freeways and streets and left in parks, building up in gutters and sewers during dry times and getting washed by the rain to the coast through the elaborate system of underground storm drains that funnel into the major channels.

    It’s a problem Seal Beach grapples with not just after the winter’s “first flush,” but every storm, said City Councilman Joe Kalmick.

    He remembers talking to the city’s trash haulers after a storm a few years back as they took away 229 tons of trash.

    “It took forever for our beach crew to get it all together and haul it up to the dumpsters,” he said.

    But finding ways to solve the issue is like “fighting feather pillows,” he said, with the biggest challenge being getting all the different jurisdictions together to take action.

    He’s been researching a solar-powered, barge interceptor with booms created by the group Ocean Clean Up based out of the Netherlands. Currently, they have about a dozen of them deployed around the world, including one at Ballona Creek in Los Angeles County.

    Richard Busch, co-chairman and cleanup coordinator for Surfrider Foundation’s North Orange County chapter, called the San Gabriel River one of the “biggest polluters” in the area, always the place with the most trash during cleanups.

    A gull picks up a fast food drink cup that washed up along the bank of the San Gabriel River just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean in Seal Beach on Tuesday morning, December 13, 2022. Recent heavy rains have sent trash flowing down the river from many miles inland. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    In the past eight years, the group has held 43 cleanups, scooping up 24,626 pounds of trash. That doesn’t take into account the thousands more pounds picked up by volunteers with the nonprofit Save Our Beaches, which holds monthly cleanups, or what is removed by city workers – or what ends up in the ocean.

    There’s always the single-use plastics: the straws, utensils, to-go bags and boxes. Styrofoam is always present. Then, there’s the bigger items such as tires, soccer balls, shopping carts and bed mattresses.

    Just last Saturday, Surfrider teamed up with a company that brought out 95 employees for a cleanup. In 90 minutes, they scooped up 700 pounds of trash.

    “It seems to be never ending, unfortunately,” Busch said.


    ​ Orange County Register