(Cleanup at soboba)

In an effort to keep the wide-open spaces of the Soboba Indian Reservation as pristine as possible, the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department implemented an annual Community Cleanup Day more than 10 years ago. This year’s event produced the best results so far as residents have used the state’s sheltering-in-place guidelines as an opportunity to clean out garages, sheds and yards.

Steven Estrada, Environmental Manager for the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department, oversees the project each year and said he has seen a decline in open dumping since the cleanups have been initiated.

In addition to community outreach and education efforts such as participating in community events, the department also hosts an annual Tribal Earth Day event as well as its Community Cleanup Day. Staff also conduct surface water quality testing on streams running through the reservation, collect and manage geographical data, and create programs to address environmental concerns.

The department is preparing to start its new grant cycle in October and is currently working on an air emissions inventory for the reservation. Its annual Earth Day event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, which really impacted the department’s education objective. Estrada said the April event has always drawn the most tribal member participation.

He noted that the biggest difference in this year’s clean-up effort was not having as many youth participants. In the past, many would volunteer as part of their youth program’s community service component, but some of those programs were put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. All those that did work, including TANF staff members and TANF youth volunteers, wore masks and gloves during the four-hour collection period on July 16.

Volunteers helped members of the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department sort through and dispose of items that were collected during the department’s annual Community Cleanup Day at the Soboba Indian Reservation on July 16.

“We had a lot of participation from tribal residents like we do every year, but this year there were multiple trips by individual households,” Estrada said. “The drop-offs were continuous and some even came in shortly after our 2 p.m. ending time.”

Dondi Silvas said her family made three trips to discard all their unwanted items.

“This program gave me an opportunity to get rid of big items that were cluttering my house,” she said. “I got rid of an old broken-down bedroom set I was waiting to throw out (queen-size mattress, box spring, two dressers and a nightstand) and other miscellaneous items.”

Her son, professional basketball player Joseph Burton, was home to help and she said they kept finding more things to get rid of, so it was a very productive day. While she is on furlough as a Human Resources Representative at Soboba Tribal Administration, Silvas said she’s using the time and the fact her son is at home to dispose of a lot of unwanted items.

“I’m grateful to the Tribe for offering this to us,” she said.

Estrada said another important aspect of the annual event is to reduce the solid and bulk waste on the reservation.

“It provides residents with the opportunity to do some spring cleaning and get rid of items that they can’t normally place in regular trash bins,” he said.

Volunteers helped members of the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department sort through and dispose of items that were collected during the department’s annual Community Cleanup Day at the Soboba Indian Reservation on July 16.

During the event, Estrada and his crew were able to fill four 40-yard trash bins and collect about 10 cans of paint and oil, which is disposed of separately. He said Environmental Specialist Jennifer Salazar did a great job coordinating things between residents and the Public Works Department that assisted in transporting items to the site from their homes, such as Tribal Elders.

With a mission statement that states “the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department is committed to protecting, restoring and enhancing natural resources on the Soboba Reservation for all tribal members past, present and future” the department works hard to raise awareness of all aspects of the environment. For those who want to learn more about their environment, please visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website at enviro.epa.gov.

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