Saturday, April 11, was the San Diego River Park Foundation’s RiverBlitz – an effort to identify and map problems along the river for later clean up/removal. The Foundation held one in the Mission Valley section of the river in October of 2008, and through that effort over 24,000 pounds of trash was cleaned out, several invasive plants were removed, and a corroded storm drain was identified and repaired. This time the focus was on Santee’s section of the river, with several groups splitting the effort.
Nearly two dozen eager volunteers gathered at Mast Park on a cloudy day, perfect weather for tramping around along the river. After some required paperwork and guidelines from Blitz leader Shannon Quigley, Field Operations Associate for the San Diego River Park Foundation, we broke up into smaller groups and headed out to our areas. My group, which included Gary Strawn, our team leader, Paul Hormick, Eric Jones, and yours truly, was assigned to the south side of the river between Cuyamaca St. and Cottonwood Ave. After dropping off two of our cars at the softball fields by Rio Seco School, we headed over to an off-street parking area near RCP Block and Brick. Once there we doled out team assignments – Gary and Eric took lists, Paul took the global positioner, and I took the camera (naturally). The goal was to identify, locate on GPS, and photograph accumulations of trash, transient camps, and invasive vegetation. This last can be surprising, since many of what we think of as normal San Diego vegetation is actually non-native, invasive, and harmful to the river environment.
At our starting point we came across our first stand of invasive vegetation – a large grove of eucalyptus. Even though the eucalyptus is ubiquitous in San Diego County, it is an import from Australia and poses a fire danger, as we saw recently in its homeland and back in 2003 when the Cedar Fire reached Scripps Ranch. Here Eric, Paul, and Gary (l-r)plot and measure the grove.
Another problem tree is the tamarisk, or salt cedar. This invasive not only crowds out local trees because of its rapid reproduction rate, it draws more water and can degrade the soil with its saline excretions. One area we christened “Tamarisk Flats” because of the enormous number of these trees. A third tree, or group of trees, is the palm. Again, a tree we see all around, but not one native to the San Diego River ecosystem. The most commonly found species are the Mexican fan palm and the Canary Island palm – both of which are very difficult to remove once established. Other major problem plants are arundo reed and pampas grass, which we did find but I did not photograph with my camera. Here you can see the rest of the team checking an area with tamarisk and palm trees.
Believe it or not, these delicate flowers belong to the invasive tamarisk
Trash is a constant problem along the river, whether from casual littering, illegal dumping, or transient camps. There were some areas that were almost pristine, while other areas just yards away looked like something you would find at the Sycamore Canyon Landfill. Part of this problem can be solved just by people taking responsibility for their own garbage, but the majority will have to be cleaned out by groups such as the Foundation and the Conservation Corps. We came across just about everything you could imagine, from bottles and cans to concrete and wire, to broken furniture. Here is a sample of the trash we came across.
Yes, that is a most likely a bathtub that has been dumped in the water.
This picturesque scene is much more sinister than you would think. The trees at left of center are tamarisk, and you can see palms in the distance. There are also some eucalyptus that are harder to pick out, but they are there.
But the real shock comes when you go down into the grove and look around at what was at one time – and could become again – a transient encampment.
But there is hope – here is an area where native vegetation has been planted in an effort to repair some of the damage that has been done over the years.
You can find traces of local wildlife, such as these raccoon tracks.
And it is still possible to find a quiet spot to drop your fishing line. I hear the bluegill and crappie hit well and the bass are starting to pick up.
If you are interested in getting involved with the protection and rehabilitation of the San Diego River, you can check out the following groups:
San Diego River Park Foundation (Go to the “Resources” section for many more links)