Valley Water established the Adopt-A-Creek program in 1992 to encourage residents of Santa Clara County to take an active role in helping to preserve the health and beauty of our local creeks. Who's involved? More than 35 groups around the county are involved in the program, but with over 275 miles of creek owned by the district in Santa Clara County, many areas have yet to be adopted.
Santa Clara Valley waterways flow into the San Francisco and Monterey bays, taking all the pollutants, debris and trash accumulated upstream with them. This poses a great threat to vegetation, wildlife and humans. In addition, more than five decades of growing urbanization means more runoff — bringing with it even more trash and debris — into local storm drains, many of which empty into our creeks and eventually into the bay.
Think about this: In 2019, 3,236 volunteers picked up more than 99,942 pounds of trash including 6,960 pounds of recyclables in just three hours on National River Cleanup Day and California Coastal Cleanup Day at 93 creek sites around Santa Clara County. That's the equivalent weight of 36 Honda Civics!
With the help of individuals and groups, we can minimize the impact urbanization is making on waterways and keep them from becoming overwhelmed by pollution. The Adopt-A-Creek program is helping the future health of our waterways by ensuring that it remains clean and healthy for California residents.
- If you want to adopt a creek, getting started is easy.
- Current Adopt-A-Creek participants can find valuable information here.
See the frequently asked questions below or contact our program staff for more information: Julie Abbatelli, (408) 724-1675.
Note: Although this program is suspended due to COVID-19 we are accepting applications and processing permits in preparation of a reopening.
The requirements for adopting a creek are minimal. There are no fees involved and we ask only that you do the following:
- Adopt a creek for a two-year period. Permits are valid for two years.
- Contact the program coordinator at (408) 724-1675, at least 10 days prior to your scheduled creek cleanup.
- Hold a minimum of two creek cleanup days per year for your adopted creek area.
- Comply with all posted signs and warnings.
- Review and follow the safety tips for your creek cleanup day.
- Have FUN during your cleanup!
Recommended group size and area to adopt
You can have as few as one or as many as 100 people in your group. The choice is yours. Whatever the size of your group, we recommend that you adopt approximately 100 feet of creek area per person.
Whom to invite to join your group
We find that each group who adopts a creek is unique in its volunteer membership. Some consist of family members, some include colleagues at a place of work while others are made up of friends and neighbors. Your most important consideration should be to find people who will commit to cleaning your creek twice a year and with whom you'll enjoy spending time.
Limits to adopting a creek
There may be some areas of creek that are not available for adoption due to the following reasons:
- The particular area of creek that you have chosen has already been adopted or
- The area of creek you have selected is on private property and the owner has not given permission to access the creek through their property.
In both cases, we will work with you to identify another area similar to your choice that you can adopt.
How can I get started?
Adopting a creek in the Santa Clara County is easier than you may think. The program is FREE and requires only two days a year (minimum) out of your time. Here's how it works:
- Identify the creek that you would like to adopt and identify the area by city and nearest cross streets. For example, you may choose "Canoas Creek between Blossom Hill Road and Branham Avenue."
You can find out which creeks are available for adoption by calling the Adopt-A-Creek program at (408) 724-1675. You can also view creeks by city.
Review program requirements.
Download, print and mail the Adopt-A-Creek application to the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Our address is 5750 Almaden Expressway, San Jose, CA 95118-3614, Attn: Adopt-A-Creek Program. If you prefer, we can also mail you an informational packet which includes an application. Call us and we'd be happy to mail one out to you.
The program coordinator will be in touch with you within seven working days of receiving your application to notify you of the availability of your creek selection. If your creek choice is not available, we will recommend another area as close to your home or business as possible.
Get your permit. Once your application has been processed, we'll mail a permit that will allow you and your team to remove litter or graffiti. We'll also put up an Adopt-A-Creek sign to recognize your group. It take approximately 4 weeks to process permits.
Schedule your first creek cleanup and notify the water district at least 10 days in advance. This will allow us make sure there is no maintenance work scheduled during your creek cleanup. See the three steps to start your first cleanup.
The water district will furnish garbage bags, gloves and gate keys (if necessary) to access your creek site, all FREE of charge. The program also arranges for a maintenance crew to pick up the collected debris after your cleanup event.
Safety tips for your clean up event
DO use caution around creek banks—they can be muddy and slippery.
DO stay clear of homeless encampments.
DO wear gloves at all times.
DO be alert for stinging insects and snakes.
DO stay in your group or work with a buddy.
DO be cautious of poisonous plants like poison oak.
DO lift with your legs, not with your back.
DO handle sharp objects (glass) with care — children should NOT pick up broken glass.
DO stop work before dusk.
- DO wear long pants and substantial leather shoes or boots with ankle support.
- DO NOT go in the water.
- DO NOT pick up heavy and/or awkward objects such as tires or large pieces of scrap metal — let us pick those items up for you.
- DO NOT pick up any objects which you suspect may be toxic or hazardous such as hypodermic needles, syringes, chemical drums, bloody clothing, chemicals, suspicious packages, and weapons. Notify the water district at
1-888-510-5151 of the location of toxic substances immediately.
- DO NOT pick up dead animals.
- DO NOT run, throw objects or engage in horseplay.
- DO NOT overexert yourselves! Take breaks; drink plenty of water especially on warm, humid days.
- DO NOT stomp on bags. Injuries may occur from broken glass or sharp objects.
The Corporate Challenge is a free program that encourages Santa Clara County companies to get involved with their local communities by adopting and cleaning a stretch of creek in Santa Clara County through the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Adopt-A-Creek program.
Companies are responsible for holding a minimum of two creek cleanups a year in which their employees participate on a volunteer basis.
To join the program, a company simply:
- chooses a section of creek to help clean
- signs up for the program with the water district
- specifies the days it will perform its cleanup
- organizes a volunteer party of employees and their friends to participate in the cleanup
The water district provides gloves and trash bags to perform the cleanup and will also pick up all collected trash and debris.
Businesses participate to demonstrate their commitment to the community and to help build relationships among employees outside of the office.
For more information, call Julie Abbatelli, (408) 724-1675.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Adopt-A-Creek important?
There are more than 800 miles of streams in Santa Clara County that need cleaning. The water district works very hard year round to maintain the health of these creeks, but we can not do it alone. We need the help of citizens like you who act as stewards for the cleanliness of our community and environment throughout the year.
How do I know what creeks are available for adoption?
You can find out which creeks are available for adoption by calling program coordinator Julie Abbatelli, (408) 724-1675, or see our creeks for adoption page.
Can I choose a creek in any area, or does it have to be specific to my community?
You can choose a creek anywhere in Santa Clara County, as long as it has not been adopted by another group or is not on private property. The areas of creeks that are in most need of adoption are in the Uvas/Llagas and Coyote watersheds near Morgan Hill/Gilroy and East San Jose/Milpitas respectively.
How many people do I need in my group in order to participate?
You can have as little as one or as many as 100 people in your group. The choice is yours. Your most important consideration should be finding people who will commit to cleaning the creek twice a year and with whom you'll enjoy spending time.
How do I get involved in the Adopt-A-Creek program?
Anyone can get involved in the program. See our getting started page for more information. You can download an application or request an application to be sent to you by contacting program coordinator Julie Abbatelli, (408) 724-1675.
How long am I committed to participating in the program?
Your Adopt-A-Creek permit is valid for two years. You can renew your permit as many times as you wish to continue participating in the program.
How often do I have to clean my creek?
We ask that you designate a minimum of two cleanup days per year for your group, although you can clean your creek as often as you'd like.
What tools do I need?
The water district supplies garbage bags and gloves for your group at no cost for your cleanup day. Please contact the program coordinator before you pick up your supplies at our San Jose warehouse located at 5905 Winfield Boulevard, San Jose.
Will my group be picking up hazardous or dangerous materials?
It is extremely rare for a group to come across toxic or hazardous materials during its cleanup day. If you suspect that a material may be toxic or hazardous, we ask that you do not attempt to remove it. Notify the water district at 1-888-510-5151 or county hazardous material office of suspected toxic substance immediately.
Can children participate?
We encourage children to participate in the program with adult supervision. It is a great way to give them ownership of their community and show them how pollution can negatively impact their environment.
Does cleaning a creek two times a year really make an impact?
YES! A little effort on your part can make a huge impact on the environment. Every piece of debris that you pick up from your adopted creek means one less piece that will end up in the San Francisco or Monterey bays, threatening humans, fish, wildlife and vegetation.