Renew Our Rivers coordinator ready to resume lake cleanup work

ROR Coordinator Clelland scours the shore for trash. (Power of Alabama)

It’s been a long two-year respite from Renew Our Rivers (ROR), and Mike Clelland is “more than ready” to return to his old stomping grounds.

On Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, Clelland is kickstarting Alabama Power’s efforts to clear the state’s lakes of waste. As coordinator of ROR, the largest lake cleanup program in the Southeast, Clelland will participate in the eighth annual Lake Eufaula Cleanup, co-sponsored by Friends of Eufaula.

On March 5, Alabama Power will also provide cleanup supplies for Valley Creek’s biannual spring cleanup, sponsored by Jefferson County, Bessemer and other municipalities.

Clelland, who led Alabama Power’s ROR program for eight years, is excited to return to the lakes. He has completed logistics for 32 statewide lake cleanups scheduled for 2022. While most of the cleanups take place in central Alabama, much of the work extends beyond company footprint.

“We’re scattered — even on the Alabama River and in some areas where we don’t have power — we always have a stake in getting people involved,” said Clelland, an environmental affairs specialist at Alabama Power for 15 years. “We will partner with the Army Corps of Engineers, PALS and other groups for some cleanups. Everywhere outside of the Tennessee Valley we will be practically involved in cleanups.

Clelland is ready to start the 2022 MMR season.

“I think the relationship has grown tremendously because in the two years we’ve had because of the pandemic, we’ve been able to stay in touch with these people,” Clelland said. “Some groups just wanted to check in and see where things were. They said, ‘I can’t wait to get back on the river.

“It clearly shows that there is a good relationship between the stakeholders and the company because of the relationships that I have personally seen over the past two years when we were not working side by side,” he said. declared. “That’s why I’m looking forward to this year, when we go out and work side-by-side in public with so many of these community partners.”

Around ten clean-ups were organized in 2021 by major lakeside associations, which removed around 75 tonnes of waste. Volunteers were able to social distance while working outdoors. As in previous years, Alabama Power provided materials to remove trash and debris from shorelines and the watershed.

“We didn’t fail to supply those who could and did clean up, providing materials — shirts, bin bags, gloves and pick-up sticks or waste pickers,” Clelland said. “Despite the pandemic, people still had a good attitude. They all wanted to keep doing it. We are looking forward to this year.

Protecting Alabama’s Water and Its Future

Clelland kinda likes everything about being on the lakes.

“Alabama is blessed with water, a natural attribute, and we need to take care of it,” he said. “When I’m on the water, it reminds me how lucky we are where we live in this state because we have so much fresh water compared to the rest of the country.

“Alabama also has more species of fish and other animals than any other state in the country,” added Clelland, who did summer internships for environmental affairs while studying at the University of Auburn. “Being able to be a part of that is something I stop and think about, when you actually get out on the water. We have a responsibility to help keep it clean. Our program educates people – especially the most young people – and involves them from an early age.

He sees the ROR program as an opportunity to also raise awareness of the need to prevent litter.

Clelland (left) is ready to work side-by-side with owner and boat owner groups and lake associations to clean up the watershed. (Power of Alabama)

“We all pull into these big, paved parking lots and see trash there, but we didn’t see how it got there,” Clelland said. “I think education at a very young age is pretty much the only way to change people’s minds about this.”

Although most large items have been removed from the lakes – water heaters, appliances and tires – volunteers continue to pick up many plastic bottles.

“Some of the lakes that we’ve worked on, we’ve seen litter migrate to other areas of the lake that we might not have worked on in the past,” he said. “We have seen the amount of waste decrease in the areas we have touched. From there I can say that we are making a difference because the other areas that we have already cleaned are not filling up.

Over the years, Clelland has seen a bit of everything removed from the waters.

“What amazes me the most is probably seeing a prosthetic leg,” he said with a laugh. “We found wheelchairs, toilets, things that you’re like, ‘Why was that even thrown in there? How did it float? Basically, if it was made by a human, we found it. Every item you can imagine, we probably found it.

A lot of debris is carried by the floods, Clelland believes. Often objects are above the normal water’s edge in the woods, where they obviously washed up.

He hopes this year’s cleanup will continue without any shutdowns due to the pandemic.

“I would love to see all the groups get together and be able to have a good time and take the trash out,” Clelland said. “The most important thing is to get back together. We couldn’t do that. It’s been a long time coming.