Missouri River cleanup raises awareness of water quality
NEW FRANKLIN - The Missouri River Relief organized about 250 volunteers Saturday to remove trash from the Missouri River as part of their fourth large cleanup of the year.
Special attention was focused this week on education and environmental cleanliness, coming to a close with the organization’s cleanup event today.
Jen Davis works with the Missouri River Relief, a nonprofit that started in Columbia 16 years ago, to address the growing problem of trash in the river. She said they have seen the amount of trash decrease, which she credits partially to the awareness they have raised, as well as the physical work of volunteers in regularly removing garbage.
“Since 2001, we have worked with over 20,000 volunteers,” Davis said. “We are completely dependent on the passion and efforts of our volunteers.”
They do receive funding from the city, as well as grants, but the work is done by citizens who volunteer their time to clean.
The organization wants people to experience the river firsthand.
“Oftentimes, we are the vehicle for their first ever experience of the river, and we see that they take a sense of ownership from that experience,” Davis said.
Today, volunteers cleaned about 10 miles of the Lamine River to about five miles below the Franklin Island Conservation area.
About 10 motor boats brought teams of volunteers to spots along the river that had trash, allowing each group over an hour to clean their area and return with the garbage they extracted.
Tires, refrigerators, large appliances and litter from storm drains are among the items volunteers find in drains. These items wash into the river, especially during floods, from nearby fields or from city streets into drains that lead to the river.
The Missouri River Relief wants to remove as much trash as possible before the Missouri River connects with the Mississippi River and eventually the ocean. Because of the strain large cities put on the river, they put particular focus on the sections of the river south of Kansas City and St. Louis, with big cleanups in those areas every year, Davis said.
Missouri River Relief volunteers went to Omaha, Nebraska earlier this year and partnered with groups there to remove trash, although they typically focus on the lower parts of the Missouri River.
However, their ultimate goal is preventing trash from ending up in the ocean, “and sometimes we have to cross state lines to do that,” Davis said.
This issue affects local communities as well as the state as a whole; Davis said most people are not aware of how reliant people are on the river, and how important it is for various aspects of life. Because environmental safety is such a large, broad issue, it connects the Missouri River Relief volunteers with people across the country.
Davis said many people hold the misconception that there is a way to filter trash before it reaches the river, but that is not the case in this area.
“People think, 'Of course the trash gets filtered out,' but the trash goes into the storm drains and that goes directly into the streams,” Davis said. “Things like cigarette butts any sort of litter you see in the streets, unless it gets picked up, will eventually end up in the river.”
Efforts are focused on addressing the problem once it gets to the river, not stopping the trash before it gets there, she said.
“That’s just the way it is, as far as I know, in most places, and that’s why we have the giant trash gyres in the oceans; because trash just washes down from all of our rivers and ends up in the ocean.” Davis said.
Over 50 percent of the drinking water comes from the river, so the quality of the water is important, Davis said. She remains optimistic that as more people become aware and get involved, the conditions will improve, and sees events like today’s cleanup as an important part in that overall process.
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