In the 28 years the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has hosted the Beach Sweep cleanup, it has pulled just about everything out of the water — even the proverbial kitchen sink.
“But a lot of what we pick up is plastic,” said Anne Barrett, the LPBF education coordinator, “plastic water bottles, caps, straws and cups.” She said a drink cup thrown on the street can go down a storm drain and end up in the bayous, rivers and marshes that feed into Lake Pontchartrain.
During last year’s Beach Sweep, more than 1,300 volunteers covered the 630 square miles of lake and hauled in 13,719 pounds of trash, and 120 pounds of recyclable trash.
“Our scientists don’t have data on the total amount of trash in the lake,” she said, “But we like to think that anything we can keep out of the lake is progress.”
There are five groups in St. Tammany organizing for Beach Sweep, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. They are looking for volunteers to clean up trash in areas along the lake, as well as the many curbs, ditches, storm drains and rivers that can feed trash into the basin.
Volunteers who want to help in Abita Springs can email Adrienne Juttner with Keep Abita Beautiful at firstname.lastname@example.org. To help in Mandeville, contact Christy Delgado with Keep Mandeville Beautiful by email at KMB@cityofmandeville.com. In Madisonville, Samantha Goodwin is coordinating efforts and can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Keep Covington Beautiful can use volunteers on land and by boat to clean the Bogue Falaya River. Call KCB at (985) 867-3652 or email firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept. 11 to register. KBC provides trash bags, gloves and litter grabbers and a picnic for volunteers following the clean up.
Barrett said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also conduct a clean up of Big Branch Marsh, which borders the lake. For information, call (985) 882-2000.
Beach Sweep is part of the international Ocean Conservancy project that tracks trash in all the waters of the world. Debris is tallied using data cards or the Clean Swell app and added to the International Coastal Cleanup master database of marine debris.
The LPBF provides trash bags and groups arrange for pickup after the event, as well as provide refreshments. Volunteers may want to bring gloves, sun screen and hats.
It wasn’t long ago that Lake Pontchartrain was so polluted that warning signs were posted. People began to rally to a campaign known as Save the Lake, and learned that stormwater runoff and common practices such as dredging Rangia clams from the lake for use on roads and in cement had harmed the vital estuary.
That campaign emerged as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which uses scientific research, education and advocacy to sustain the gains of the last few decades. There are programs to reduce wastewater contamination and track pollution, as well as efforts to treat stormwater before it drains into the lake.
Barrett said the foundation monitors the lake's water weekly, and involves the public in a continued efforts to clean it up. In the spring, the LPBF sponsors the Spring Sweep, which is part of Keep America Beautiful’s Great American Clean Up.
“The lake is cleaned up,” she said. “It’s not polluted or closed like it was in the '70s.”
She said it’s once again clean enough to swim in, with the exception of after heavy rainfall or when the Bonnet Carré Spillway has been opened.
“Then we have to wait for the clams to filter it” until it is considered safe again, she said.
To register a group to clean up in a designated area, or to join efforts in designated areas in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles and East Baton Rouge parishes, contact Barrett at (504) 836-2238 or email email@example.com.