River cleanup nearly doubles the amount of garbage, weeds collected pre-COVID

August 3, 2022
River cleanup nearly doubles the amount of garbage, weeds collected pre-COVID

A staggering 2,600 pounds of garbage and weeds was collected this year at the annual Deschutes River Cleanup, nearly double the amount collected in 2019, which was the last time scuba divers participated. Most of the debris came from the riverbank during the event Saturday, but Deschutes County Search and Rescue divers did recover about a trash bag’s worth of garbage from the river itself. They also managed to bring up a couple of cellphones, one of which was returned to its owner, along with her passport.

When divers took part in 2019, about 1,400 pounds of garbage was collected.

In 2020 and 2021, when divers did not participate due to pandemic concerns, volunteers collected about 900 pounds of rubbish from the riverbank each year, said Kolleen Miller, the event coordinator and education director for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

The cleanup organized by the council. Volunteers registered to help out and then met Saturday morning at one of six cleanup sites along the stretch of river between La Pine State Park and Tumalo State Park.

During the early part of the pandemic, the search and rescue divers discontinued their annual participation in the event, Miller said.

“The scuba divers didn’t feel comfortable. There is a lot of really close contact getting people ready with their gear and oxygen tanks, etc.,” Miller said. “The dive group we were working with didn’t feel comfortable doing it, so now this year they are back, and they are all Deschutes County Search and Rescue divers.”

The divers Saturday said the river was cleaner largely because of a group of local divers, surfers, and scavengers who routinely search for lost items and trash in the river.

“Because of their efforts, the river is looking pretty good these days,” Sean Jones, a diver with Search and Rescue, said of the group known as Loot the Deschutes.

Jones has been diving for the Search and Rescue team for 21 years, diving in bodies of water all across the county. During his time he has found evidence of homicide and drug deals, several cars, and even an airplane. It’s tough work, and not a lot of people are cut out for it, he said, but he’s happy to do it as a public service for the community.

Jones said he and his team of about six divers were able to return one of the cellphones they found, along with a passport, to a woman in Bend visiting from California. The phone and the passport were in a waterproof bag, Jones said, and were returned to the owner before she left town on Monday.

Bend Park & Recreation District spokeswoman Julie Brown said the large amount of trash recovered during the river cleanup event was not surprising.

“The results of the cleanup collection are not unexpected based on river use, and the park district staff work hard to keep up with the volume of trash that unfortunately is often abundant,” Brown said. “We encourage river users to reduce trash and debris and leave any unnecessary items behind, so they don’t unintentionally contribute to the situation.”

-Joe Siess

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An aerial view of a body of water.