If you wander just a bit off the main road that runs through the beautiful LSU Burden Museum and Gardens toward the northwest corner of the site, you encounter a shocking sight that is as grotesque as the rest of Burden is beautiful: A sunken field of litter, about the size of a football field, filled with bottles, cans and other pieces of plastic trash that have accumulated over the years and now weighs an estimated 81 tons.
The litter hasn’t been intentionally tossed there, per se. Indeed, the field is relatively inaccessible. Rather, the sea of old soda cans and beer bottles comes from nearby Ward’s Creek, which spills over into the low-lying basin every time there’s a heavy rain. When the water recedes, the litter and silt that were deposited there remain, adding to a pile that now extends more than a foot below the surface.
The field at Burden is an eye-opening example of the litter that winds up in Baton Rouge’s watershed every day—trash that is not only ugly but harmful to wildlife and, potentially, to humans. It’s the kind of travesty that would set off alarm bells in some places yet has gone unaddressed here for years, and it is not isolated to the Burden Museum and Gardens.
The solutions are not difficult to implement, at least not from a technological perspective. They do require coordination, a collective will and, not insignificantly, a recurring revenue source such as a dedicated tax or fee.
But the city-parish may be running out of time. Since 2008, Baton Rouge has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for deficiencies with its Stormwater Management Program, a plan all municipalities are required to have on file detailing how they deal with stormwater runoff and keep it from polluting downstream watersheds. The plan must address things like toxins and chemicals, silt and sediment, but also litter.
Though Baton Rouge has not been forced into a consent decree, that could be coming soon: The parish is currently in talks with DEQ over longstanding problems identified with its SWMP that have yet to be corrected. Neither officials with the city nor DEQ, which administers the program for the EPA, will discuss the status of the talks, which they say are confidential because of legal issues. But it speaks to the seriousness of the problem—and the need to address it.
Read Business Report’s latest cover story about the trash piling up in our city’s watershed, and how one citizen activist has spurred real conversations about how to fix it.