Environment / Nature

Local groups clean portion of San Benito River

Graniterock employees, CHEER and volunteers remove a record 169 tires.
Loading tires into a truck for disposal.
Loading tires into a truck for disposal.

Over 25 volunteers came out to clean the banks of the San Benito River and surrounding area on Nov. 9. Efforts took place at a Graniterock property off Buena Vista Road in Hollister. The local company brought in environmental group Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration (CHEER) to oversee the cleanup.

Herman Garcia, CHEER founder and president, said the timing of the cleanup was crucial. He referred to the cleanup crew as “the first responders to our watershed,” because they work to get garbage out of the riverbed before seasonal rain causes the river to carry it downstream to other bodies of water. The group is the “first and last line of defense protecting the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary,” Garcia said. “Whatever gets by us will wind up in the bay.” 

According to Garcia, CHEER’s record for the number of tires removed from one area in a single day was previously 156; Saturday’s cleanup set a new record with 169. The number of tires taken out of the Pajaro watershed in 2019 stands at 1,039, breaking a 2014 record of 1,030.

Other garbage found included electronics and furniture.

Garica said the Nov. 9 cleanup covered an area a half-mile wide by a mile long. He expects to be out there again before the rains come with a priority to remove garbage that can be carried by water currents.

Numerous volunteers assisted in the cleanup, including several Allstate employees, Gavilan College biology instructor Rey Morales, and several of his zoology students. Morales spoke to BenitoLink about the importance of the work they were doing and the importance of getting his students involved.

“We want to give them practical experience, these are bio majors,” he said. “They learn all about animals and plants, and it is nice to get them out and really experience the natural environments, [show] how people are part of the environment. We tend to forget that, unfortunately. This area has been thoroughly abused.”

Biology major Shane Beeman, who is working toward a degree in marine biology, said he got involved because the local waterway is connected to the ocean.

“Us getting together as a community and being able to put our forces together can do a lot,” Beeman said. “Our efforts can save a lot of habitats.”

Graniterock environmental specialist Rachel Reed said, “I think it is really important to send the message we do not want any illegal dumping on our property.” Graniterock will post signs warning against dumping, she said, and will partner with the community to bring in grazing animals to help maintain vegetation in the area.

After the cleanup, CHEER took the garbage to the Recology transfer station in San Martin, which waived its fees for the cleanup crew.

To learn more about future river cleanup efforts, contact Graniterock or CHEER.


Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.