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‘It’s a dirty job:’ How traps are keeping trash out of the Chattahoochee River

Last year alone, the devices kept 2,400 pounds of trash from reaching the river.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 6:28 PM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 6:52 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - A group dedicated to protecting one of metro Atlanta’s most precious waterways is using traps to keep trash out – and they appear to be working.

Sitting on the water’s edge of the Chattahoochee River near Vinings on Wednesday, Karen Baker stopped to admire what she considers a beautiful slice of nature.

“It’s peaceful,” Baker said looking at the river. “The water is so clean and clear. Like that drew me in.”

However, keeping the 435-mile river, which is used for drinking water and recreation, free of litter is no easy task. Jason Ulseth with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper said the biggest pollution threat to the river is stormwater runoff.

“One of the most common types of pollutants that we find in these tributaries and in the Chattahoochee River is trash,” he said.

One solution to the problem is trash traps. The environmental advocacy nonprofit maintains 10 trash traps placed in tributaries across the metro that empty into the Chattahoochee River. Two more traps are in the LaGrange area.

“We’re finding that they’re highly effective in screening out the trash out of these waterways before it’s making its way into the Chattahoochee River,” Ulseth said.

Ulseth said when it rains, debris pours into creeks and storm drains, which empty into the river. Instead of letting the garbage flow all the way downstream, the traps, which are mostly in urban areas, intercept the trash. Storm Water Systems helped the group install a “bandit model” last month in Chamblee’s Dresden Park.

“Once you get into the groove of it, it’s actually pretty peaceful being out here in the water,” said Jordan Yu, a watershed protection specialist employed by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Yu, who admits the job is dirty, cleans the traps by hand after each rainfall, pulling out mostly plastic and Styrofoam. The trash is separated and recycled, if possible.

“You have to be careful, especially sometimes there’ll be hazardous material that people litter that gets caught up in the trash trap,” Yu said.

Last year alone, the devices, which are anchored by cables but can rise and fall with the water, kept 2,400 pounds of trash from reaching the river. Ulseth said the group is testing other trap prototypes and plan to add more in the future.

“Whether you like to go fishing, tubing or kayaking, or if you just like to drink clean water, we all use the Chattahoochee River,” said Ulseth. “And we all have to do our part to protect it. These trash traps are just one tool in the toolbox to do that.”

“I think that those traps are incredibly necessary to keep this and preserve it the way it is,” Baker added.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper still welcomes volunteers. The group has pulled 2.5 million pounds of trash from the river since 1994, according to Ulseth.

To get involved, click here.