‘No public pooping.’ Lazy partiers add to river’s nastiness, California officials say

A man kayaks down the Russian River in Guerneville, Calif.
A man kayaks down the Russian River in Guerneville, Calif. Associated Press file

The Russian River in Northern California has a poop problem, and county officials say drunken beachgoers aren’t helping any, The Press Democrat reports.

“There’s no excuse for this,” said Johannes Hoevertsz, public works director, according to the publication. “The sign we have says, ‘no public pooping.’ We really need to drive the message that if you’re going to come to Sonoma County and be a guest, you can’t do this.”

Officials say drunk partiers who won’t walk from Steelhead Beach on the river to a nearby restroom are the worst problem, The Press Democrat reported. But rafters and clean river advocates say homeless camps on the river produce more waste.

An estimated 28,200 homeless people live in the Bay Area, which stretches to part of the Russian River, an April report says, KPIX reported.

“The bigger problem in the Bay Area is the unsheltered population,” said Jeff Bellisario of the Bay Area Council, according to the station. “Sixty-seven percent of those people are in shelters. That’s the problem we see on the streets today.”

The report says housing all the region’s homeless would cost $13 billion, KPIX reported.

Elsewhere in California, problems with human waste on San Francisco streets and sidewalks, mostly attributed to homeless people, got so bad the city instituted a “poop patrol” cleanup effort in August 2018, McClatchy news group previously reported.

“I will say there is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here,” said Mayor London Breed in July 2018. “That is a huge problem and we are not just talking about from dogs — we’re talking about from humans.”

More recently, President Donald Trump threatened Environmental Protection Agency action last week against the city, which he accused of letting waste and needles flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Associated Press reported. San Francisco leaders called the accusations “ridiculous.”

Hoevertsz says problems with poop along the Russian River peak after holiday weekends at popular picnic and camping spots, suggesting it’s more than just homeless people using the river as a toilet, The Press Democrat reported.

Poop problems along the river are not new. In 2014, the Russian River Watershed Association released a pamphlet warning pet owners to pick up after their animals to prevent water pollution.

“Pet waste can be washed by rainfall into storm drains and nearby creeks and rivers,” the document says. “Storm drains do not connect to treatment facilities, so untreated animal feces end up in creeks and rivers, causing significant water pollution.”

Along with more signs warning against public pooping, Hoevertsz says officials may consider expanding alcohol bans along the river, The Press Democrat reported.

The county banned alcohol at Steelhead and Sunset beaches along the river from Memorial Day through Labor day last summer, KNTV reported. Officials also required reservations for buses dropping off and picking up beachgoers on weekends.

The Russian River flows southward from Mendocino County through Sonoma County, along Highway 101 and past Guerneville before flowing into the Pacific Ocean near Jenner.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.