A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Cities face new mandate on river trash

Written April 21st, 2024 by Hasso Hering

The Willamette River in Albany, photographed in Octrober 2021. (Since last year this viewpoint has been closed for reconstruction.)

As if cities like Albany don’t have enough to do, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to list sections of the Willamette River as “impaired” by trash. This will trigger new regulations under the federal Clean Water Act, and cities likely will bear the brunt of a new mandate.

Volunteers with Willamette Riverkeeper, along with countless people on their own, for years have been removing trash along the river’s banks. Most of the junk seems to have been abandoned by people who were living in the riverside brush.

“We don’t blame those that are houseless for this trash crisis,” Oregon Public Radio quoted a Willamette Riverkeeper staff attorney in a story on April 18. Who else then gets the blame? Well, of course: “Local government, state governments — they need to be providing resources.”

The DEQ report on river pollution came out last week. Based on years of efforts by Willamette Riverkeeper, the agency recommended that sections of the Willamette be listed as “impaired” by trash. One section shown on a DEQ map goes from Eugene to north of Albany.

As this goes forward, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will review the data. Eventually the state DEQ will develop a program of trash prevention along the river.

Then local jurisdictions, cities for the most part or maybe counties, will have the job of trying to carry out whatever program the DEQ proposes and the Oregon Environmental Commission adopts.

From time to time, the Albany parks staff and police organize big cleanups of trash abandoned along the river. They usually haul out stuff by the truck load.

What more could the city do? Ban people from being near the river? Throw them in jail if they are? Raise fees on local taxpayers to fund a permanent force to conduct daily riparian patrols?

Telling local goverments to “prevent trash” is easy. But how is that supposed to be carried out? (hh)

Trash left beside the Willamette near Albany before it was cleaned up in March 2020.

22 responses to “Cities face new mandate on river trash”

  1. DeeDee Biegel says:

    Maybe collecting people living on the riverside and moving them to another location is the answer.

  2. Rich Kellum says:

    This smacks of an unfunded mandate from the state. As I recall there is a law against that.

  3. Hansen, Dennis says:

    like in the old days “Telling local companies to “prevent pollution” is easy. But how is that supposed to be carried out?

    After they complained for years somehow companies figured it out. If the city can’t figure it out maybe they ought to hire a private firm.

  4. Coffee says:

    We are taught to save some money for a “rainy day.” That can mean, for a city, funded by taxpayers, that they have to come up with money to clean up the river banks. Something unforeseen or unplanned is what “rainy day” planning refers to.

    The city is spending over 21 million dollars of taxpayer money on cement and brick adorning Water Street surfaces and completely redoing Monteith Park with yards of concrete. The few benefiting from this (the elite and Hasso on his bike rides) don’t want to view trash in the river and on its banks.

    • Robert says:

      Great Comment, could not agree more. We reap what we sow. How about offering a few of the homeless a bed and meal, along with a trash can? How about putting out trash cans so anyone can use them and not spending so much money to make the shareholders of the garbage company wealthy? Where there is a will there is a way. The american way is to blame (the government, the homeless, the wealthy), criticize (the government, the homeless, the wealthy) and then not take responsiblity, just lockem up, till the system fails.

  5. Robert says:

    Undoubtedly the bulk of trash that accumulates along the river is most likely caused from the unhoused . Although I’m sure there are a few individuals that just dump stuff illegally. This isn’t an isolated problem for Albany alone. It occurs in Corvallis and in various locations up and down the river. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Supreme Court decision regarding Klamath Falls and their current “ordinance” restricting public camping. In the end, cities will need to figure out what the answer is and provide a managed area/facility to get the homeless off the river ways, out of the public parks and hopefully a positive track for their future and our environment.

  6. Al Nyman says:

    As somebody who has a significant amount of Willamette River frontage and also a lake next to the river, very little debris is caused by dumping. Almost all is from downed trees, etc. and not from tires or things that float. After all, washing machines, etc. do not go far when they hit the river so maybe Albany should clean up the river voluntarily within the city limits as that will cure the problem the state is alleging.

  7. David Cross says:

    Perhaps local governments in sections of the Willamette River identified as “impaired” offer a sum paid, similar to a bounty, for trash collection. The sum could be in the form of a voucher for services offered by the municipality such as food and housing relief funds that local participating merchants and property management firms would recognize.

    • Robert says:

      Great Idea David,

      Like bottle return. Where there is a will there is a way. This whole story demonstrates how the will to extract more money from the tax payers and waste it the force behind the actions. Lets see if the cities and state come up with a win-win or a win-lose resolution.

  8. Jim says:

    They will just ban people from being near river banks. Prolly a a fence or some shit.

  9. Just a Thought says:

    More trash cans available and why don’t we utilize inmate work crew and community service hours to help with some of these tasks? Doesn’t have to be a long, complex multi- faceted, permanent, legislative action. Keep it simple. Don’t overthink it. Work to be done, put people to work

  10. Jennifer Stuart says:

    Is the city sponsoring any more volunteer riverfront or park cleanup days? My husband and I participated in a couple of those before the pandemic, I think. We live near the Willamette Community Garden and the Dave Clark Trail, and would gladly do that again. Maybe they could organize them twice yearly or quarterly and be able to make a dent in the problem.

    I make occasional trash and poop walks in my own neighborhood and can tell you that the riverfront is not the only place with a trash problem in this city, nor is it just the unhoused who are leaving trash around. Once around the block will fill a 5 gallon bucket with trash and another with dog poop from the street planting area if I only get out every month or so. My observation is that half of us won’t even pick up garbage that lands right in front of our own homes.

    • Coffee says:

      You are so right, Jennifer…..a lot of people will not pick up trash that lands right in their own front yard. Mark Twain famously said once, “People are no damned good.” Mark Twain was right about a a lot of things…maybe he was right with that remark, too.
      I also make the trash/poop pickup walk in my neighborhood. Years ago, when the police force still had cops on bicycles, one rode by while I was picking up trash and he stopped and complimented me on doing that.

    • Matthew Calhoun says:

      There are several groups who volunteer their time to clean up the community. I believe some of them volunteer through the parks department and there is the giving a hoot group. These amazing people love Albany and actually do something productive, unlike the grumpy old men on here with their rose colored glasses from the 60s and overactive keyboards of negativity.


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