Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Chris Brokate did not intend to spark a revolution in watershed management when he hauled a load of trash from the Russian River in his weathered Chevy pick-up in 2014.
The Forestville man simply spotted a need after winter storms flushed debris from the river’s mouth onto the beach near the coastal community of Jenner.
“All of a sudden, we had all this stuff down here and I thought, ‘Who’s going to clean this up? Nobody was going to do it,’” Brokate said.
Four years and roughly a half-million pounds of trash later, Brokate’s Clean River Alliance is hailed as a model for improving watershed health. Brokate, 54, has earned numerous environmental awards for his work, while across California, communities rush to implement similar trash-hauling programs to combat blight and pollution.
The herculean task has come at a personal cost to Brokate, whose body and truck have taken a pounding from the work. As some measure of relief, a Sonoma County grant has allowed him the freedom to step away from his janitorial business and devote himself full time to the clean-up project, while friends have organized a fundraising drive to upgrade his wheels.
“The grassroots movement that Chris Brokate has led to clean up the lower Russian River is historic and without precedent,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes that stretch of the river. “We are talking tens of thousands of pounds of trash removed from our watershed.”