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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Volunteers pull trash from Spokane River as residents flock to the water to beat the heat

From fishing to swimming to fresh water kayaking, the Spokane River is a respite – especially on the hottest days of summer.

But the river has been affected by citydwellers.

“It’s an urban river, so there’s always been sort of a lot of trash along the banks,” said Jerry White Jr., executive director of the Spokane Riverkeeper. “This is not unique to Spokane. We find it all across (the nation.) … Unfortunately, lots of trash that’s discarded or littered or just flies out of a garbage can blow in the river. Everything we don’t throw out slowly finds its way to the river.”

On Thursday, volunteers wearing tennis shoes, a hat for sun protection, long pants and gloves pulled more than 720 pounds of garbage from the river in their latest effort. So far this year, the haul by hundreds of volunteers has reached 2,300 pounds. It included everything from candy wrappers and cardboard boxes, to paint cans and shopping carts.

“We’re getting far more effective at picking up a lot of trash,” White said. “Maybe that’s why the numbers are higher on our pickup.”

Since 2014, keeping the Spokane River “fishable and swimmable” and protecting local water resources has been the Spokane Riverkeeper’s mission. Along with White , Jule Schultz and Joshua Abel serve at the helm of the trash pickup program.

With the Spokane River’s bank holding city endeavors and events, and Spokane evolving into a growing city, litter and trash easily finds its way to the water.

But there seems to be a correlation of trash-picking and the amounts the Spokane Riverkeeper is finding. It teams up with Spokane’s Code Enforcement to find illegally dumped pollution in the Spokane River. After Code Enforcement workers sweep an area, the Spokane Riverkeeper’s volunteers then go for a double-take, searching for any items Code Enforcement wasn’t able to remove or detect.

For larger events, the Spokane Riverkeeper and the Spokane River Forum team up to supply groups with trash pickup essentials for a two-hour period. Spokane Riverkeeper’s mission to keep the river “swimmable and “fishable” thrives with the diverse cleanup approaches.

Educating the masses is another avenue he Spokane Riverkeeper takes to fight against pollution. Policy work and research are two other solutions it invests in while its social media sites also offer and share community resources, such as articles on Spokane’s ability to be a waterwise city, news updates with the local Sierra Club and heat wave information like river temperatures increasing.

“We’ve just finished up our sediment study, and we’re initiating a study on crayfish and pollution on crayfish,” White said. “The other big pillar of our program is we’re really working in the legal world and in policy. We’re enforcing permits and looking up water quality permits.”

The next cleanup session will be at the People’s Park on Saturday morning. Volunteers can sign up through the Spokane Riverkeeper’s website or the Spokane River Forum to participate. Sessions run from 10 a.m. to noon.

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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