(KRON) — Homeless encampments entrenched along waterways in San Jose are polluting rivers, creeks, and streams with trash and biowaste.
Between July 2022-June 2023, Valley Water’s cleanup crews removed more than 2.7 million pounds of trash, debris, and hazardous pollutants generated from unsheltered people along Santa Clara County’s waterways.
To combat the mess, the region’s water utility will begin providing debit cards to homeless people who “maintain tidy camp areas free of trash,” Valley Water announced Wednesday. Unsheltered residents can also earn debit cards by collecting and bagging anyone’s trash found on land managed by Valley Water.
The new debit card strategy, “Clean Camps, Clean Creeks Program,” coincides with a second new strategy, the “Portable Toilet Facilities Program.”
Crews will place portable toilets and wash stations at 20 critical locations to reduce the amount of human waste entering waterways.
Valley Water said its crews will also double the number of cleanups conducted between now and the summer of 2024.
To help fund these efforts, Valley Water was recently awarded a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency providing approximately $2.2 million to perform cleanups and provide portable toilets on heavily impacted creeks. The grant also provides about $900,000 to address encampment-generated environmental impacts on Coyote Creek in San Jose.
“This investment in additional resources reflects Valley Water’s commitment to protecting the health of Santa Clara County’s creeks,” Valley Water board chair John Varela said. “We continue to tackle the issue of creek pollution in collaboration with local and county governments, organizations that provide outreach services to unhoused individuals, and dedicated community volunteers.”