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Impact of Freshwater Pollution on the Environment

Authors: Zoya Akbar, Anya Bhatia, Naina Khandelwal, Advika Wagh

Irvington High School, Change Project Essay

Advika Wagh, Zoya Akbar, Anya Bhatia, Naina Khandelwal pause while removing trash from Coyote Creek

Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful has “pulled over half a million pounds of trash” (Hawk), equivalent to 272 tons. As more and more contaminants pollute creeks and other freshwater sources, the need for organizations like Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful will only increase. Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful is a local organization that helps solve the freshwater pollution problem. Problems like littering, climate change, and human activities negatively contribute to creek pollution, especially in Coyote Creek, and endanger organisms (“Excess Fertilizer Carried”). Freshwater pollution is a severe environmental issue in the San Francisco Bay Area with widespread effects (“Excess Fertilizer Carried”). As these causes become more prevalent, pollutants harm native animals and plants, increase pollution in riparian areas, disrupt the food chain, and impair water quality (Kramer). Specifically for the San Francisco Bay Area, freshwater pollution gets more drastic every year and causes an unsafe environment for animals and plants. As a result, many freshwater sources in the San Francisco Bay Area suffer from freshwater pollution, specifically Coyote Creek, that creek cleanups can alleviate.

Deb Kramer, the executive director and founder of the organization, established Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful in 2015 (Hawk). Her inspiration behind creating Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful was her memories of lush trees and pristine water when she was younger (Hawk). Kramer noticed that invasive plants, foreign species, and pollution had started to build up in the creek and surrounding areas (Hawk). The creek’s decline eventually led her to create Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful. The organization works to restore Coyote Creek, a 64-mile-long river, to its original condition (Hawk). Kramer started the organization by herself, and it quickly became an official non-profit organization (Hawk). With Kramer’s experienced, conscientious, and ambitious personality, she has earned her valued position. Kramer is a well-spoken individual who articulates her ideas clearly, concisely, and intelligibly and a qualified leader who works closely with numerous local organizations and safely hosts creek cleanups while educating her community.

Annette McMillian leads Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful’s restoration efforts. McMillian, a crucial community member to Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, stated, “I’ve worked for KCCB for almost two years now, and I, personally, feel I have impacted KCCB by helping to pull literal tons of trash and debris from the creek” (McMillian). McMillian is a welcoming leader, aiding with the growth of Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful using her optimistic personality and knowledge. With the assistance of hardworking staff and coordinators, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful has “engaged over 9,000 volunteers, many of whom are regulars” (Hawk). McMillian has worked closely with the rest of Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful’s team to help relieve freshwater pollution, removing trash throughout the creek and teaching residents about the severity of creek pollution (“Our Mission and Vision”). McMillian is a hands-on leader, interacting with the community as well as cleaning up the water source and its surrounding areas (“Our Mission and Vision”). McMillian has supported community members in restoring the natural habitat of various animals and plants.

Anya Bhatia, Advika Wagh, Naina Khandelwal, Zoya Akbar are hard at work removing trash from Coyote Creek

At Coyote Creek, the colossal trash negatively impacts native animals and plants. At the creek, garbage collects on the edges, flowing into the water body and eventually reaching other freshwater sources in the Bay Area and the ocean (Kramer). Any litter impacting Coyote Creek also harms organisms that inhabit water bodies spread throughout the Bay, not just the inhabitants of the creek (Kramer). Trash along freshwater banks imitate food and leads to the death of animals and plants that depend on Coyote Creek for survival. Pollutants damage ecosystems and impairs environments forever, making the habitats unable to recover. As trash accumulates on the banks of rivers, it can disturb the environment of native animals and plants by limiting the growth of local species (Kramer). The limited growth of native species allows invasive animals and plants to take over, claiming the habitat as their own. With invasive animals and plants growing and thriving, native species may be unable to reproduce at the former rates (Cook). Native animals and plants rely on vital resources on the freshwater banks for survival (Cook). Overall, trash and pollutants at the edges of freshwater sources contaminate the water and make it challenging for native species to survive.

Figure 1: Number of bags collected over time

The graph above illustrates individuals' impact on Coyote Creek’s environment: volunteers make a difference by restoring the natural habitat and disposing of the trash. Volunteers and local coordinators restore Coyote Creek by removing debris from the freshwater source. Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful engages individuals through “cleanups, recreational and cultural activities, and educational partnerships” (“Our Mission and Vision”). The organization hosts biking, nature walking, kayaking, and backpacking events to connect individuals to nature (“Our Mission and Vision”). The organization hosts trail clean-ups and collaborates with other environmental groups around the Bay Area. Additionally, the organization educates K-12 and college students and the public about Coyote Creek (Hawk). Individuals of all ages learn more about the causes and effects of freshwater pollution through Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful’s countless events and educational partnerships (“Our Mission and Vision”). As more people are aware of the impacts of creek pollution, they tend to participate in a variety of creek cleanups to reduce contamination in the creek. The original visual in Figure 1 shows the gradual increase in trash collection during 3 months of creek cleanups (November 2022-January 2023). Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful involves community members in the organization’s mission through creek cleanups. As organizations host more cleanups, more people collected bags of trash, a crucial aspect of keeping creeks clean (“Neighborhood Cleanups”). Removing litter from freshwater sources reduces the contaminants that occupy it. Consequently, organisms at creeks have a clean space to thrive and grow.

Advika Wagh prepares a trash bag for removal.

Hosting creek cleanups and spreading awareness about the issue help address freshwater pollution. When organizations raise awareness about freshwater contamination, they detail the severity of the problem and provide additional information so individuals can make their own “informed decisions” (“Raising Public Awareness C8.02”). These decisions will help individuals to limit their harm to freshwater, reducing contamination. Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful informs individuals about the damage to freshwater sources through various events and community interactions (“Our Mission and Vision”). After attending the BioBlitz and creek cleanups hosted by the organization, the public understands their environmental impact by observing the colossal cleanups (“Neighborhood Cleanups”). Through creek cleanups, outreach events, and other awareness efforts, individuals are taking action to stop the risks of freshwater pollution on the environment. Because more volunteers are removing more trash from freshwater sources, more animals and plants can thrive, and freshwater bodies can develop and flourish.

In addition to polluting Coyote Creek, creek pollution affects ecosystems throughout the Bay Area. Freshwater pollution harms ecosystems depending on freshwater for survival in Oakland and San Francisco. Due to contaminants and fertilizer in Lake Merritt, Oakland, California, the city found 1,200 pounds of dead fish and other organisms at the lake (“Community Update: Lake”). Polluted freshwater makes it nearly impossible for freshwater inhabitants to survive as the statistics shows. Without healthy freshwater sources, many animals would die, reducing biodiversity and destroying an ecosystem’s trophic levels. Officials restored Lake Merritt by cleaning up the lake and removing contaminants and remaining carcasses (“Community Update: Lake”). The significance of freshwater resurrection efforts is that organisms will recover making them less likely to be exposed to the contaminants previously in the lake. Hazardous substances such as oil and paint seep into San José’s untreated stormwater, leaking into various integral water bodies (“Keep Our Creeks”). Stormwater consists of rainwater and any accumulated substances in the water and flows into other water bodies with all the contaminants (“Prevent Chemicals, Garbage”). Freshwater contamination can lead to complications in organisms’ vital bodily systems. San José added vegetation to roofs and streets, allowing the plant's roots to absorb excess water containing harmful chemicals (“Green Stormwater Infrastructure”). Absorption from the roots of plants filters out water contaminants, ensuring clean water enters freshwater sources and aiding with the decline of freshwater pollution. To restore water bodies across the globe, individuals must remove contaminants and harmful chemicals.

Our local freshwater source, Coyote Creek, suffers from severe creek pollution. Minimizing the amount of trash and pollutants in the creek would restore Coyote Creek. Deb Kramer and Annette McMillian, both crucial leaders, help the community of volunteers grow with their welcoming and extroverted personalities. Volunteers at Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful make a difference with their dedication to restoring the creek to its original state. Since most local water bodies are connected, the rippling effect of contamination passes on to other local freshwater sources. Community members, organizations, and the government should act to reduce freshwater contamination. Community members should be more cautious in how they dispose of their trash. Organizations should raise awareness about the severe impacts of freshwater pollution on the environment and humans. The government should pass legislation to protect freshwater sources from pollution. Each year, more and more freshwater bodies become polluted, impairing the ecosystems that depend on the water source for survival. Individuals, governments, international corporations, and organizations should take responsibility for keeping our freshwater sources clean and healthy.

Deb Kramer, Naina Khandelwal, Advika Wagh, Anya Bhatia, Zoya Akbar, and Annette McMillan after a successful cleanup.

Works Cited

“Community Update: Lake Merritt Algae Bloom and Fish Die-off.” City of Oakland, 8 Sept. 2022,

Cook, Colter. “Re: Creek Pollution.” E-mail interview. Received by Zoya Akbar, 2 Feb. 2023.

“Excess Fertilizer Carried by Rains Poisons Rivers, Gulf.” USA Today, 9 Dec. 2021.

Hawk, Michael. “#56: Deb Kramer–Starting and Leading Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful.” Nature’s Archive Podcast, 10 Oct. 2022, .

“Keep Our Creeks, Rivers, and San Francisco Bay Clean.” City of San Jose, [circa 2018],

Kramer, Deb. “Re: Freshwater Pollution.” E-mail interview. Received by Anya Bhatia, 2 Feb. 2023.

McMillian, Annette. “Re: Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful-Change Project Interview.” Email interview. Received by Advika Wagh, 11 Feb. 2023.

“Neighborhood Cleanups.” California Coastal Commission, [circa 2020],

“Our Mission and Vision.” Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, [circa 2020],

“Prevent Chemicals, Garbage and Other Debris from Winding Up on the Local Beach.” EPA

“Raising Public Awareness (C8.02).” Global Water Partnership, 4 Aug. 2017, .


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