STOCKTON, Calif. — An invasive issue has once again blanketed Stockton's rivers and lakes in green and now local college students are brainstorming solutions to fix it.
Water hyacinth, which thrives in drought conditions growing on shallow, slow-moving waterways, crowds out native plants, blocks water intakes, shades out shallow-water fish habitats and obstructs navigational channels.
The invasive, leafy green plant, not native to California, shows up and rapidly spreads each year in San Joaquin County waterways from the McLeod Lake in downtown Stockton to the Calaveras and San Joaquin Rivers.
As Ronald Rossi, a junior at Stockton's University of the Pacific crosses the Calaveras River to walk to campus each day, he sees the issue firsthand.
"Every time someone passes over that river, the only thing they can think is that it's disgusting. There's a muffler in there, there's a chair, there's a little fridge in there, there's a couch -- it's bad," Rossi said. "Recently, the water hyacinth has completely covered the water so you can't see the mufflers at all."
It's a problem costing the state of California nearly $12.5 million annually, according to a report by the Legislative Analyst's Office. The city of Stockton dedicates funding to the issue each year too, to the tune of $182,400.
Rossi and members of his recently formed, 40-member-strong Environmental Conservation Club are volunteering to get involved in the fight against the invasive aquatic plant species.
"We really want to see our community get better," Rossi said. "I think that as long as we allow our public areas to be just completely trashed, Stockton will never be considered as great as we think it is."
For Rossi, the water hyacinth issue is not just a matter of aesthetics. He says some people see the green plant dotting the water and mistake it as a good sign, ignoring the death and food chain disruption occurring feet underneath.
"In the Delta, it completely clogs up our waterways, which makes it very vulnerable for algae growth, and mosquito growth," Rossi said. "Preventing air from getting into the water, preventing sunlight from getting to the plants at the bottom of the river, killing those plants."
The club meets for one hour each Friday. During the meetings, Rossi and his members research the hyacinth issue and brainstorm new solutions.
"There's, what we can see, a few options. Some of them are not reasonable, for example, getting herbicide and spraying it over all of the water hyacinth," Rossi said noting that herbicides would also kill other life in the river. "The best way to go about it, in my opinion, is through mechanical means."
Mechanical means, for example, catching seeds from water hyacinth plants before they bloom or removing each piece of the plant individually are practical solutions that the club is researching and hoping to test.
The city of Stockton spends most of its hyacinth funding on crews who physically remove the plant using boats and excavators.
Currently, the club is seeking funding and grants to continue research and in order to test out solutions.
"Because we're a college club, we're working towards getting funding from the university, from other places, there's a whole bunch of stuff we're looking at," Rossi said. "This is a local issue and there's no way that anyone's going to get anything done unless we do something about it ourselves."
As hyacinth continues to bloom in San Joaquin County's waterways, Rossi says he and his group are committed to blooming new solutions. For him and his members, the mission is personal.
"I love Stockton and I don't want to see this place as disgusting as it is," Rossi said. "I don't want to see mufflers in the river, I don't want to see chairs in the river, I don't want to see death in the river."
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