Cleaning up the Santa Ana River

From cleanup to restoration:
 How communities rally around water

Growing up in Riverside, California, Megan Brousseau knew the Santa Ana River for being debris- and effluent-filled, despite it being the reason this arid region had been settled decades before, when the famous orange groves first sprouted.

“The city had turned its back to the river and built everything facing away from it,” she said. But during her sweet 16 summer, Brousseau was introduced to the last remaining idyllic parts of the cool waterway when her then-boyfriend, now husband, sneaked her past the chain-link fences. The two spent the hot months basking in the refreshing shade. “We didn’t have access to air conditioning or swimming pools, and here I found a running river and a place for all of our friends to be free and barefoot and see fish and birds and connect with nature.”

But the access was fleeting–they were chased out by a park ranger. And until just a few years ago, much of the Santa Ana was a dump for the surrounding community and industries.

Stories like this are not hard to find. Across the United States, water management has historically been take-use-dispose, which results in degraded watersheds and rivers. But there is a movement in communities across the nation toward a stewardship model of water management, a concept grounded in an understanding of the naturally closed loop water cycle—the idea that what one person disposes, another person eventually uses.


Brousseau’s passion for the river eventually brought her back to work on its restoration. Now, as program director at Inland Empire Waterkeeper, she oversees cleanup efforts and community outreach, sponsored by Nestlé Waters North America’s Arrowhead Brand Mountain Spring Water, that are helping to make the Santa Ana fishable, swimmable and drinkable again.

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