A group of citizen activists has formed a nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning up Baton Rouge and finding a permanent solution to removing litter and trash from its watershed.
The Louisiana Stormwater Coalition was formed in recent weeks by photographer Marie Constantin—who began documenting the city’s litter problem one year ago and has since launched a grassroots cleanup effort—along with Kelly Hurtado, Jeff Kuehny and Renee Verma.
A fund to support the organization has been established through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
The coalition’s goals are to increase awareness of the growing litter problem around the parish and to build support for a permanent solution, which would include identifying a source of funding for the purchase and maintenance of litter-catching equipment—booms and bandalongs—that could be installed at the outfall of drainage canals around the city-parish.
“The ultimate goal here is to create a stormwater management program for Baton Rouge that is fully funded,” Hurtado says. “Marie has researched communities in Florida that have done this successfully so we can use that as an example. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
As detailed in a recent cover story in Business Report, Constantin’s efforts to clean up the Capitol Lake near her Spanish Town home in early 2020 have mushroomed into a wider initiative to clean up plastic debris and trash that are collecting in the city’s watersheds, such as low-lying wetlands in LSU’s Burden Gardens, where Kuehny is executive director.
Constantin’s efforts also have led her to research what other communities are doing to address the problem. Several Florida communities, for instance, have imposed monthly stormwater management fees on residents to fund equipment that picks up litter before it flows downstream and collects in the watershed.
As awareness of Constantin’s efforts—which include weekly volunteer cleanups of the Capitol Lake—have grown, Constantin says she has been inundated with calls offering help, seeking information and requesting littler pickups in individual neighborhoods.
“We started getting all these requests to speak at organizations, for information about how they can help and also complaints about litter. People will call and say, ‘There’s an abandoned mattress or TV across the street. Can you come pick it up?’” she says. “So we desperately needed an organization and a website that can give people hope and let them know that we don’t have to live like this.”
Constantin says her experience cleaning up Capitol Lake will serve as a case study on the organization’s website. In the past year, the volunteers she has marshaled have collected some 1,175 bags of trash from the lake and 225 waste tires.
So far, the coalition has raised $10,000 from two families that contributed $5,000 each to the organization. Hurtado says the early groundswell of support for the group has been overwhelming.
“People are literally coming out of the woodwork,” she says. “Once you’ve gone out to a place like Burden and seen the trash, you can’t unsee it. It crunches under your feet. People really want to do something to help and make a difference.”