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Keeping trash from going with the flow into the L.A. River

September 19, 2010 | 11:47 am

Every time it rains, workers in Long Beach rush to the mouth of the Los Angeles River to scoop up the floating islands of plastic bottles, grocery bags and other debris before it's all swept onto local beaches or pulled out to sea.

Now, a deceptively simple solution is underway to fight the ongoing problem of river trash by intercepting it before it's washed into the river in the first place.

Over the next year, 16 cities in southeastern Los Angeles County are installing screens beneath nearly every storm drain that flows into the lower Los Angeles River.

Once the custom-built stainless steel devices are installed inside nearly 12,000 catch basins, authorities expect them to keep 840,000 pounds of debris -- the equivalent of about 450 Volkswagen Beetles -- from reaching the ocean each year. The garbage that washes off city streets and highways has long been identified as a major source of pollution that can degrade coastal habitat and float thousands of miles away on ocean currents.

The project will also help communities along the Los Angeles River comply with state and federal clean-water rules that require they capture nearly all the trash that for years has washed into the river.

"This stuff is not just going into the ocean and disappearing," said Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board. "The long-lasting parts of it, which are primarily the plastics, are essentially moving their way through the currents, impacting marine life and impacting our beaches and our local waters too."

Described as the largest debris-capturing project in the nation, the cleanup effort is being undertaken by the Gateway Authority, a coalition of cities and public water agencies in southeastern L.A. County, using $10 million in federal stimulus dollars.

Read the full story here.

-- Tony Barboza in Long Beach