A pull of a lever and the conveyor belt starts towing even the most stubborn floaters into the belly of The Marauder, one of Long Beach’s three trash-collection boats.
Captain Mark Januszka, supervisor and projects coordinator for the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine, is a Long Beach native who’s helmed the city’s trash boats for more than 15 years.
“We pull anything and everything from the water,” he said while motoring the boat out for an early morning pick-up. “There’s a lot of debris from the cities above us (upstream of the Los Angeles River). There’s even full cars floating down,”
Especially during the rainy season, Januszka said he and his crew of 15 employees work every day to remove large items such as bed mattresses and couches from the water as well as smaller debris such as sticks, plastic cups, water bottles and Styrofoam.
After an hour’s work, The Marauder, which has the capacity to hold up to 2.5 tons of trash, already is filling up. But today’s collection is a mere drop in the 193-ton bucket that the city fills with trash from the water every month, according to Ed White, the city’s superintendent of beach maintenance.
A vast majority of the gunk collected by the city in Queensway Bay, from the Catalina Terminal to the Shoreline Marina, comes from the Los Angeles River. Starting as far north as the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach’s waters long have been plagued by the urban runoff from cities upstream.
In the last decade though, conditions have improved. The installation of a county controlled trash boom at the mouth of the Los Angeles River means that much of the trash trickling towards Long Beach is caught and collected.
Additionally, the city installed a trash-collection boom near Shoreline Village. Januszka and his staff regularly clean out that boom, which helps keep trash from damaging the boats in the downtown marina.
“If debris makes it into the marina, the boats could suck it up… It can foul motors and end up costing big money in repairs,” Januszka said. “It can cause a lot of havoc here.”
In 2001, the Regional Water Quality Board voted on a plan to reduce pollution in the river by forcing cities upstream to keep waste from passing through storm drains. Upstream cities are required to reduce trash runoff by 10% annually. That regulation was sidetracked by a lawsuit, however.
Storm water management has further improved since stimulus money (from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) provided $10 million towards the installation of trash screens on nearly every drain that leads to the LA River in 16 cities. Additionally, $1.5 million in stimulus money went towards creating three pump stations to prevent even more trash from entering the river.
Last year, all 27 cities in the Gateway Council of Governments agreed to support a $41 million comprehensive storm water management plan. City officials said they are working to secure money to pay for the project, which would involve trash traps, automated retractable screens and bacterial sponges on nearly every storm drain leading to the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers in the 27 Gateway cities.
With a smile on his face, Januszka said he’s happy to see water quality in Long Beach continue to improve.
What he sees firsthand is backed up by improved ratings from Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card, which shows that water quality has improved for the last three consecutive years.
Additionally, city workers are finding less trash from the water today than they did a decade ago. In 2001, the city removed an average of 5,500 tons of trash from the water annually, and now, with a 193-ton monthly average, about half that much is collected.
“I love the water,” Januszka said. “I have a vested interest because I reside in the city and work here so I take a lot of pride in this city…
“It’s good to see the cleanup efforts are starting to be a success.”