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Newport Beach breaks ground on trash-catching water wheel project in Upper Newport Bay

In what he hopes will be inspiration for other cities to help in cleaning Orange County’s waterways, Newport Beach Mayor Noah Blom unveiled an image of the new trash-collecting water wheel that should be up and running in the Upper Newport Bay by the end of next year.

The relatively low-tech, partially solar-powered wheel is expected to corral trash that flows from upstream communities along the San Diego Creek and Santa Ana Delhi Channel before it can reach the bay, the harbor and ultimately the ocean.

The project, which will be the West Coast’s first and nearly a decade in the making, was inspired by a similar type of technology used by the Mr. Trash Family – three water wheels operating in Baltimore Harbor – that have collected more than 2,000 tons of trash since being put to service in 2014. The wheels have become a sort of landmark in Baltimore.

The wheel uses old and new technology, combining the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris.

City officials say as much as 80% of the trash and debris could be collected from the ecologically sensitive bay. Depending on the amount of rainfall, officials estimate that Upper Newport Bay gets between 100 to 500 tons of debris washed into it each year.

The collection system is costing $5.5 million and in July, the City Council awarded a $3.9 million construction contract to a Brea firm. Funding comes from local, state and federal agencies. The wheel system should be running by December 2024.

“We’ve seen our water get so much better,” Blom said, referring to other projects the city has undertaken to improve water quality around the bays and harbor. “Newport did its part now. I’d like it to set an example statewide. We’ll use who we are to be the first and hopefully inspire others.”

The official image of the wheel – mossy green with a blue Newport Beach sail on its side – was unveiled during a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, Sept. 15, at the location where it will operate along the east side of the Jamboree Bridge. Blom, along with other councilmembers, county and state officials and environmentalists, took turns scooping mounds of dirt with gold-colored shovels close to where the wheel will go into service.

“This has been Duffy Duffield’s baby,” said Councilmember Will O’Neill, throwing credit to the former councilman who spearheaded the idea starting as a member of the city’s Water Quality and Tidelands Commission and later on the City Council and with the Harbor Foundation.

“This is a continuation of Newport’s dedication to water quality,” O’Neill said, adding that the trash wheel collector is one of his favorite city projects in his seven years on the council. “It’s unique and innovative. We have the largest recreational harbor west of the Mississippi. Ultimately we’re stewards and this shows our commitment.”

The first signs of construction should be visible in early October when piles are sunk into the river, a platform will be attached for the wheel to rise and fall with the tides and the wheel should be visible from Jamboree Road by early summer next year. Power will come from solar panels and the river current.

Once collected on the wheel’s conveyor belt, the trash will be removed by a short rail system to be transferred to a standard trash truck. The project, once up and running, will add to other trash reduction efforts already in the bay and harbor.

“This is the first of its kind on the West Coast; it embodies our commitment to protecting Newport Bay,” State Sen. Dave Min said. “It’s not just about diverting trash, but making sure our open space will be preserved for generations to come.”

Assemblymember Diane Dixon, a former Newport Beach mayor and councilmember who also was on the Water Quality and Tidelands Commission, recalled seeing the original Mr. Trash Wheel early on.

“We’ve got to get something like this,” she recalled saying. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the water wheel would follow me to Sacramento.”

It was through bi-partisan support, the two state legislators said, that they helped secure through the Department of Water Resources budget the remaining $1.6 million still needed to complete the funding for the project.

Source: Orange County Register

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