Santa Clara County

Clean water: Santa Clara County fights trash

Federal Clean Water Act focuses on stormwater runoff

No one likes seeing litter snagged in the willows edging the creeks winding through the County of Santa Clara’s parks. But that’s exactly what they’d see every time were it not for the federal Clean Water Act and the County workers who enforce it. 

The County of Santa Clara and the cities within the county share a legal responsibility under the landmark 1972 law. Each must keep the waters within their jurisdictions free of unsightly, wildlife-harming debris — and crack down on those who trash them. 

Education and enforcement

They do this primarily by trying to keep pollutants out of stormwater runoff. A big part of their work involves educating the public, in schools and elsewhere, about preventing pollution.

Many people mistakenly assume stormwater is cleaned before it flows into the San Francisco and Monterey bays. In fact, stormwater washes discarded trash directly into water bodies, says Vanessa Marcadejas, Clean Water Program Manager for the County. Eventually, all that rubbish enters the oceans.

Many people incorrectly assume that water that runs into storm drains is cleaned before it reaches the bay. Rather, plastic and other trash is often ingested by wildlife.

The clean-water unit of the County’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency is not responsible for protecting drinking water. That’s the job of other agencies, especially the Santa Clara Valley Water District and various water retailers.

Rather, the County team works to protect these watersheds so the public and wildlife can enjoy them. Their mandate comes from the federal Clean Water Act, which leaves enforcement to state and local authorities.

It’s easy to report dumping or accidental releases to a storm drain in unincorporated areas of the County. Call (408) 918-4609 or email

June 25, 2019

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June 2019
Santa Clara County