For years, river and lake communities have been fighting to keep trash and plastics out of the water. Now, as the battle against COVID-19 continues, people are finding a new item littering natural resources — masks. Now, one waterfront village is hoping some new technology will keep the St. Lawrence River cleaner than ever.

“I’m excited,” Lauren Eggleston said as she watched a special project happen in the village of Clayton.

This is putting it mildly. Eggleston is beyond excited.

The new environmental moment has been a long time coming. The village of Clayton, where she works for the environmental advocacy agency Save the River, is installing traps in several storm drains through the village that borders the St. Lawrence River.

“Any runoff that comes off during a storm goes into the drain, into the storm drain and then this will actually catch anything like masks, or cigarette butts or little pieces of plastic like straws, things like that,” Eggleston said.

It’s another layer of protection for a river that so many depend on to live, work and play. It’s one of our region’s most important natural resources. When plastics and other trash get into the river, it can cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

“The fish might eat that thing that used to be part of a cigarette butt or a bird might consume that and then once it is in their systems, they cannot digest it. That’s when it really starts to have an impact on the wildlife. So, it might start off on our streets, but if we miss that chance to catch them, then that’s when it really starts impacting.” Eggleston said.

However, this is a pilot program for a reason. It’s a testing stage before anyone knows if it makes sense to buy and install traps in every storm drain in the village.

Leaves are an unknown. How many will wash into the traps? How often will the traps need to be emptied because of them? How much manpower will that require? Now that fall is here, Eggleston is about to find out.

“The traps do have a system built into them so if there is too much material in the traps, the water will continue to flow and go into the storm system, but the thing that we want to avoid is having that happen,” Eggleston said.

The testing, the figuring it all out, no matter how long it takes for Eggleston and Save the River, it’s well worth it.

Save the River is also looking into buying vaccum-like technology that goes right into the river and catches both large and small trash particles, but those are much more expensive.