Beauty Reclaimed

Cleanup group removes trash from waterways

By Jessica Laskey
May 2023

The next time you meander along the American River Parkway and spot volunteers armed with gloves, grabbers and trash bags, give a friendly wave.

They’re probably dedicated members of the recently formed River City Waterway Alliance, a volunteer group that hosts weekly cleanups of local waterways to restore and protect these precious, imperiled resources.

“Water needed a strong focus for trash cleanup efforts,” says Kathleen Ford, who co-founded the alliance with David Ingram, Mark Baker and Lisa Sanchez. “Our rivers, creeks and streams contain a really egregious amount of trash, so we decided to focus our efforts on local waterways.”

The four founders belonged to other volunteer cleanup groups when they formed the alliance in January. Thanks to connections with public agencies, including the city of Sacramento, Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks and American River Flood Control District, they hit the ground running.

“Public agencies either cannot or will not (do cleanup),” Ford says. “They’re limited by jurisdiction control, lack of resources and staff, and liability. It’s up to citizens like us to be the boots on the ground and get in there and remove that trash, but we partner with public agencies to actually haul the trash away. It’s a great public-private partnership.”

In the first three months of 2023, the alliance donated 1,271 volunteer hours and held more than 40 volunteer cleanup events, resulting in the removal of more than 205,150 pounds of trash.

“We’re really just scratching the surface. There are millions of pounds of debris in our parkway right now,” says Ingram, the self-described “data guy” of the group. “I recently started collecting the most contaminating parts of the cleanups that do the most damage. In just six weeks, I collected more than 3,000 used hypodermic needles and 5,000 discarded batteries, as well as countless ‘honey buckets’—buckets of human feces.”

Without wanting to get too political, Ingram notes 90% of the debris is from illegal encampments. He says they clean active camps only with permission and campers appreciate the assistance.

“We’re not scapegoating unhoused folks, we’re exposing real problems,” Ingram says. “It’s not just the trash in the parkway, it’s the inhumanity of what society has allowed to exist that needs attention. Maybe seeing this, political leaders will get more motivated to help rather than just shoving people into nooks and crannies where they get lost in the system.”

The alliance works in Township 9 along the American River, Riverdale mobile home park near Highway 160 and Camp Pollock, Arcade Creek in Del Paso Regional Park, the American River College campus, along Steelhead Creek adjacent to the Garden Highway, the Sacramento River near the Tower Bridge and upstream, and near Watt and Howe avenues.

The alliance partners with other groups to tackle specific areas like Laguna Creek in Elk Grove and the North Natomas drainage canal, part of a partnership with Soil Born Farms and City Council member Lisa Kaplan.

Three of the four co-founders are involved with Sacramento Area Creeks Council, a nonprofit that supports volunteer-led, water-related enhancements. The alliance is one of several groups the council supplies with funds and equipment.

“For me, it’s a way I feel I can make a visible, tangible difference,” Ford says of the cleanup process. “It’s a great and easy way for citizens to get involved and know they’ve made an impact. Plus, we have great camaraderie and we’re outside enjoying the river. It’s a great way to enjoy these resources.”

Ingram concurs. “We’ve been visited by mallards, tree squirrels, otters, Canada geese, hawks, even a nesting pair of bald eagles,” he says. “It’s amazing to be out there in their environment cleaning up for them while they’re watching over us. It’s invigorating and motivating. It feels like they’re coming by to say thank you.”

To get involved with River City Waterway Alliance, visit the group on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube or email

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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