Founded 20 Years Ago, This Southern County's Rivers Alive Program Engages Residents in Resource Protection

An event sponsored by the Clayton County Water Authority engages the community to help keep waterways clean.

Founded 20 Years Ago, This Southern County's Rivers Alive Program Engages Residents in Resource Protection

Community volunteers collect trash, litter and debris during Rivers Alive stream cleanup.

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It’s amazing what people sometimes find when working on stream cleanup projects. During the Rivers Alive cleanup sponsored by the Clayton County (Georgia) Water Authority, community volunteers have found a car door, a transmission housing and one object the adults easily recognized, but the kids did not.

The Rivers Alive cleanup was created more than 20 years ago to encourage communities to keep rivers healthy. Sponsored by government and non-governmental organizations, it was an offshoot of the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

“During the past two years, we have had to cancel the event due to COVID,” notes Suzanne Brown, communications and community relations manager. “It was so disappointing for the community and the staff because everyone has so much fun and looks forward to it. We are happy to announce that it will be back on for 2022.”

Clayton County Water Authority, about 15 miles from Atlanta, treats up to 38.4 mgd at three water reclamation facilities and serves a population of about 300,000.

Rotating venues

The event is promoted through bill inserts, the utility’s Facebook page, e-blasts from its county commissioners, flyers at the local libraries, the Clayton County government access channel, and the authority’s website and social media.

The event is held on the fourth Saturday in October and focuses on the Flint River, and creeks connected to county parks. Utility staff members pick a park or school along a stream where there is ample parking and access to restrooms. Venues have included Swint Elementary School, Panhandle Park, Independence Park and Rex Park.

The volunteers arrive at 9 a.m. and receive supplies that include a Rivers Alive T-shirt, gloves and trash bags. They sign waivers and receive a safety briefing. If the weather is hot the organizers alert the volunteers to beware of bees and snakes.

Volunteers range from five years old to well past retirement. A group of AT&T retirees, the Pioneers, come every year. Other groups include Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, high school and university students and utility staff. Up to 300 volunteers take part; the average is 150 to 200.

Volunteers are divided into groups with a team leader. The trash collecting lasts 45 minutes, at which point a blowhorn signals the groups to return to their starting point. The groups typically collect 1,000 to 1,500 pounds, and in some years up to 3,000 pounds.

Fun festivities

When the volunteers are back where they checked in, they enjoy an hour of fun activities, along with lunch. There are games and prizes for the kids. The games include a version of cornhole in which children toss brown and yellow bean bags, representing poop and pee, at a toilet seat. The kids learn what they should and should not put into toilets.

A prize wheel teaches and quizzes the students about water conservation, stormwater and pollution prevention. They get prizes for answering questions correctly. A model water tower and fire hydrants are on display. A group of authority staffers teach the kids about watersheds and show them samples of water from the river or stream they helped clean up.

Along with the car door and transmission housing, the volunteers found a shopping cart.

“One of the most unusual objects we found was a pay phone,” Brown recalls. “The kids didn’t know what it was, and we had to explain that at one time coins were put in a phone to make a call. They had a hard time believing that.”  


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