h20 trash patrol
Encinitas Family Forms Volunteer Group to Clean Waterways

April 29, 2012, Judd

When you’re walking on the beach, surfboard in hand, do you stop and pick up pieces of trash that you pass? Or are you blissfully ignorant, pretending not to notice, too bothered to put your board down and pick up even one piece?

Hopefully, you’re doing your part to keep Encinitas beaches — and those beyond our shores — pristine. Thankfully, there are lots of people who volunteer for organized beach cleanups or take the initiative on their own to pick up trash onshore.

But there are relatively few people who clean up our lagoons, estuaries, rivermouths, creeks, streams and harbors. After all, it’s easy to spot a piece of trash on the beach; it’s a lot harder to clean up the San Elijo Lagoon, where trash hides in between the rocks within sight of the lineup at Cardiff Reef.

One Encinitas family has sacrificed their leisure time to clean up those hard-to-reach places in the San Elijo Lagoon, and beyond.

Patti and Lorenzo Diaz, along with their three children, Jasmin, 11; Diego, 9; and Nicolai, 6, have formed the H20 Trash Patrol.

The Diaz clan uses inflatable stand-up paddle (SUP) boards to access the banks of the Lagoon. Trash cans are bungee corded to the nose of the SUP, which tows an inflatable raft, filled with extra trash buckets.

On this recent Saturday afternoon, with a strong red tide and the mouth of the San Elijo Lagoon smelling foul at low tide (perhaps from a sewage spill that made its way downstream from the Escondido Creek to the lagoon), Patti stands on the western bank of the rivermouth while her husband Lorenzo uses Pick Stick Grabbers to reach trash embedded in the rocks.

The Diaz children are upright on their SUPs placing the washed-up flotsam in the trash bins.

“We’ll fill up a bucket with trash in just a few minutes. We’d like to do more cleanups, but with a full-time job and family obligations, it’s hard to do more of them,” says Patti.

In April 2010, the Diaz family witnessed the trash that collected in the rocks at Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Soon after, the family decided to do their part in cleaning up local beaches. They clean San Elijo Lagoon twice per month.

“People would see us doing beach cleanups as a family and ask us what organization we’re with. So we sat down as a family and the kids came up with the name H2O Trash Patrol,” says Patti, who has a degree in marine biology and is a certified homeopath and makes a living as a web designer.

Next, the family quickly learned to navigate on SUP boards and started using them for lagoon and harbor cleanups.

In just over a year as H20 Trash Patrol, the Diaz family was awarded a contract by the city of Oceanside to clean Oceanside Harbor, which they do twice a week. They also earned an Environmental Hero Awardfrom the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation.

They also clean San Diego Bay on their own dime and time. Patti has reached out to the city’s Port Authority, but was told that the city lacks the funding to pay H20 Trash Patrol. For now, the Diaz family will continue to volunteer for the Bay cleanup.

H20 Trash Patrol not only cleans up trash, they sort, document and recycle it. The data collected goes toSan Diego Coastkeeper.

“Documenting the trash is worse than picking it up,” says Patti. “After cleaning up the trash, you have to handle it all over again. The small pieces are very time consuming, but documenting it is very eye-opening because it puts into perspective how much trash we pick up.

“We’re happy that Oceanside took the initiative and set the precedent to clean up their harbor. In just six weeks, we cleaned 300 pounds of trash—5,000 pieces,” adds Patti.

As for Encinitas’ cherished lagoon, Patti says that the San Elijo Conservancy gives H20 Trash Patrol tacit permission to clean up further inland in the lagoon, east of the trestle, adjacent to the Kraken Bar.

Patti cites the Kraken’s Dumpster, placed right on the edge of the lagoon’s west bank, as being a major source of pollution.

“A lot of trash from that Dumpster ends up in the lagoon,” she says.

The H20 Trash Patrol, to date, is not paid to clean San Elijo Lagoon.

For Lorenzo, the greatest threat to the lagoon is shards of glass that wash up around the rocks.

“I’m more afraid of glass than I am of sharks,” says Lorenzo, wearing booties to protect him from getting cut and paddling over to the west bank to empty out a full trash can.

Patti and Lorenzo’s hopes for H20 Patrol are that the organization will one day be run as both a for-profit and a non-profit.

“We’d like to hire crews to go around and clean up the waterways. This would create green jobs and leave people feeling good about what they’re doing at the end of the day, which is why we are doing these cleanups,” says Patti.

Although the Diaz family has their inflatable SUP boards and pick-up-trash grabbers donated, they welcome financial donations, which will be put toward doing more cleanups and eventually establishing a non-profit for educational programs in schools.

Want to feel good about keeping our waterways clean? Contact H20 Trash Patrol at 760-428-4029 to volunteer.

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.