Cleaning Up Our Urban Waterfronts

The third Saturday in September is recognized across language and cultural barriers as a day to support and protect our waters as the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC). At last year’s Cleanup, nearly 400,000 volunteers collected over 6.8 million pounds of trash in 100 countries and 42 US states; the largest volunteer effort of its kind. Beginning 23 years ago in Texas, the event has grown into a premiere service event around the world and echoes President Obama’s call to service. Many of the locations are located directly in the heart of large urban populations and serve as sources of education on important water issues. The events’ impact is evidenced by the reduction of trash in the waterways that participate and demonstrates how other clean up efforts around the country can help revitalize the water.

I joined the EPA several summers ago as an intern, while a student at Howard University in Washington, DC. This is when I was first introduced to this annual event, and more importantly the cleanup was my first real experience with water issues and the concept of protecting America’s urban waters. At the time my sole job was managing the partnership EPA had with Howard University, and one of my areas of focus was community service. The two seemed like a perfect a fit since one of the sites designated for a cleanup was here in DC at the Anacostia River. The first year in 2008, we lead a group of about 20 students. With a great response, they were able to develop a sense of ownership responsibility for the waters in their community. In 2009, the amount of support more than doubled, with a little over 50 volunteers from the University and presence at two sites within the city.

I have witnessed the impact that clean ups like this have on our water and in the hearts of the volunteers through my work with EPA and Howard University firsthand. It also brought Environmental issues and more importantly issues with urban waters (like trash and runoff) to both students at Howard and the general population of DC. As this particular event approaches its 25 year anniversary there is still more that can be done especially on our urban waterfronts. Unfortunately trash may always find its way into our waters, but our clean up efforts make a large difference to communities that leave in these areas.

Link about the coastal cleanup.

About the Author: Jarred McKee is a Fellow in the Oceans & Coastal Protection Division in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans & Watersheds. He has been with the EPA for several years now and annually works on the Agency’s Partnership with the Ocean Conservancy and International Coastal Clean Up.