Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WATCHING OUR WATER: "Water Bugs" Clean the Concho

Water, obviously, is a hot topic here is San Angelo. Anytime I'm asked by a fellow journalist or friend or family member about what I'm working on at the paper, my first response is always 'water'. Mainly because we have none, or at least we didn't up until about two weeks ago. While I was away on vacation up in Indiana enjoying clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s, San Angelo was getting pounded by storms that produced high winds, golf ball-sized hail, heavy downpours and flooding. It rained more than seven inches over just three days!

Naturally, there was going to be a lot of run off flowing into our area lakes, reservoirs and the Concho River that runs through town. And with it, all kinds of debris and trash. This is where a local volunteer group who call themselves the "Water Bugs" jump into action. The group, made up of four retired gentlemen with a passion for kayaking, gather four to five times a year at Celebration Bridge near Oakes Street and slide their kayaks into the river with a small inflatable raft in tow and remove trash that has washed into the river. "It's just like adopting a portion of highway only we've adopted a portion of the Concho River that runs through San Angelo," said David Busker who formed the group four years ago.

I met up with three of the men last week on a cool morning just as they were about to embark. "We started this group around four years ago," Busker said, "and we find all sorts of things floating around in the water." San Angelo and the surrounding area had just been blessed with heavy rainfall over the Memorial Day weekend so Busker predicted that the amount trash in the river was going to be pretty high. With a few jokes and laughs Busker and his two fellow "bugs", George Lackey and Gene Potter, put on their life jackets and slipped into the water in their kayaks.

It didn't take long before all three men were hauling plastic bottles and cups, tennis balls and oil bottles out of the river. As I make my way up the river bank I hear Gene Potter yell out, "Hey Patrick, can you give me a hand?" He was paddling his way across the river to where I was standing and he was pushing something big through the water with the bow of his kayak. Turns out it was some kind of cushion from a bench or lawn chair. "I tried to pull this thing into the boat and it is so heavy I nearly turned over," Potter said laughing. It took two of us to haul this thing onto the shore.

After about an hour of removing trash from the water, trash bags and other large items were beginning to pile up on the shore. "We leave the trash and the debris on the shore and then the city comes by to pick it up and haul it way," Busker said. Along with the seat cushion, the men pulled out large pieces of wood, old shoes and even an old tire. "Every little bit helps," George Lackey said.

The Concho River is one of the highlights of San Angelo, at least for me personally. It's one of the defining characteristics of the city, providing a nice area for citizens to enjoy the outdoors. It may not seem like such a big deal that a few retirees clean up a small portion of the river a few times a year, but I for one am glad they do it. "It's a nice feeling knowing that, in some small way, we help beautify our city," Busker said. "Plus, we get to have a little fun a the same time."

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