Posted on January 18, 2023
Rain in Southern California can seem like a blessing, but for residents of the dock-front homes in Channel Islands Harbor, the water brings problems.
Robert Gray, a resident of the picturesque Channel Islands neighborhood, said clusters of junk and debris flow into the harbor after almost every storm before eventually making their way to the ocean.
In those patches of trash, Gray has seen everything from oil bottles and pieces of Styrofoam to hypodermic needles and prophylactics.
“Every time I see this floating garbage, and it’s tons of this stuff, I always feel like this has to be the greatest pollution crime that’s going on locally,” Gray said.
A major thoroughfare for the garbage is the Oxnard West Drain. It’s an approximately 3-mile channel operated by the county of Ventura that receives water from dozens of miles of storm drains.
Some agencies are trying to reduce the amount of trash that flows through the storm drain. However, the entities have denied responsibility for cleaning a boom where garbage accumulates just before it reaches the harbor.
Operated and maintained by the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, the drain begins at the intersection of Fifth Street and South Ventura Road near Oxnard Airport, said Glenn Shephard, district director for the watershed district.
The drain moves water south to Channel Islands Boulevard. From there, the open-air channel runs west in the center of the boulevard and feeds into the harbor at Victoria Avenue.
Rain water will sweep any trash and debris in streets and along curbs into one of the 1,450 inlets that flow into the larger storm drain, Shephard said.
Additionally, 60 miles of drains owned by the county, city of Oxnard and private entities lead to the Oxnard West Drain and eventually the harbor.
The Star visited Channel Islands Harbor three times late last week. Although reporters didn’t see any garbage at that time, Gray, who has lived in the area for decades, said the problem persists. He suspects recent rain storms flushed the trash and debris through the harbor out to sea.
“The problem exists whether there’s garbage back here this morning or not,” Gray said on Jan. 5. “The problem isn’t going away.”
The waterways, with and without trash, can be seen from a number of bridges that connect the waterfront communities. Boaters also encounter the phenomenon.
Harbor Captain Andy Werner said the Ventura County Harbor Department patrols the waterways south of the Channel Islands Boulevard bridge, while the city of Oxnard maintains the northern waterways, which move through the Channel Islands neighborhood.
While the county doesn’t have a designated team to scoop garbage out of the water, harbor staff will pick up trash and debris when they see it, Werner said.
“If you are driving your boat and there’s a bag submerged that’s a dark color and you don’t see it, it gets wrapped up in the propeller,” Werner said. “We pick up a lot of trash, a lot of debris and a lot of hazards to navigation.”
Oxnard contracts J.F. Brennan Co. to remove trash in the harbor’s northern waterways, city spokesperson Katie Casey said. The company, which is based out of Wisconsin but has an office in Ventura, patrols the harbor for trash 16 hours per week and conducts on-call services, such as removing dead animals.
The four waterway communities that make up the Channel Islands neighborhood — Seabridge, Westport, Mandalay Bay and Harbour Island — share the $11,050 monthly cost for the service, city staff said.
Once trash leaves the harbor, it may wind up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, said Chuck Carter, a member of the Surfrider Foundation who serves on the Channel Islands Neighborhood Council.
Ocean garbage patches are large areas of marine debris that are caused by rotating ocean currents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The trash is also harmful to local marine life and ecosystems, Carter said. Disposable utensils and plastic foam will break down into tiny beads that are consumed by fish.
“There’s examples where the fish’s belly is so full of these plastics, they die of starvation because they can’t get any nutrients,” Carter said.