Trash Boom Project

Photo of trash clean up

The Matadero and Adobe Creek Trash Boom Project is a cooperative partnership between the City of Palo Alto Public Work’s Watershed Protection Group and Valley Water. In 2005, the City of Palo Alto observed that floating trash transported by local creeks was accumulating in the environmentally-sensitive Charleston Slough. It was determined that hand removal of trash is difficult due to dense vegetation and often disturbs sensitive habitat. Staff researched alternatives and concluded that trash booms could collect floating debris in the channelized creeks before it reached the Baylands.

What is a trash boom?

diagram showing how boom floats on surface stopping debris while allowing aquatic life to pass underneath

Trash booms are barriers installed across creek channels that prevent trash, branches, leaves, and other floating debris from entering the Baylands and San Francisco Bay. Floating on the creek surface, booms have an underwater short solid skirt to collect materials with sufficient clearance to allow aquatic life to safely travel under them (Image source: SGA Marketing, inspired by Ocean Cleanup Project; USA TODAY research). Due to their low profile, water generally flows over them during large rain events. However, the booms also have breakaway hardware, allowing one anchor point to easily disconnect, when there is a large blockage of materials behind the boom, to prevent local flooding. 

The trash booms are in place year-round on Adobe Creek at East Bayshore Road and Matadero Creek at West Bayshore Road (see map below). They capture the “first flush” (stormwater runoff of the first fall rains) of trash that accumulate in the storm drain system during the dry season. City and Valley Water staff regularly monitor and inspect the trash booms to ensure public safety and the safety of aquatic and other wildlifeIn the event of excessive trash after the first flush, City staff clean the booms to ensure materials do not bypass the trash boom and eventually enter the Bay. 

Trash Boom Sites

Below is a map indicating trash boom sites within the City of Palo Alto. 


How much trash is removed?

City staff remove trash and debris from both booms on National River Cleanup Day (the third Saturday in May) and Coastal Cleanup Day (the third Saturday in September). The City also conducts land-based community cleanups in the Baylands on these days. During these clean-up events, trash is characterized, weighed, and counted to inform how other trash reduction programs should be prioritized. To volunteer for these and other countywide cleanup events, visit

Booms are a terrific trash-reduction tool! Since the first deployment of the Matadero Creek trash boom in 2009 and subsequent addition of the Adobe trash boom in 2013, the City has removed 2,200 pounds of trash that would have travelled into the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. These materials could have otherwise harmed aquatic life and added to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.

The most common types of trash that are removed from Matadero and Adobe Creeks: 

  1. Styrofoam pellets, pieces, and blocks
  2. Tennis balls 
  3. Plastic and glass bottles (PET)
  4. Misc. plastic items, including film and lids
  5. Misc. paper items, including napkins and tissues
  6. Food wrappers

Recently deployed boom in Matadero Creek. The boom is safely anchored to the concrete walls.

Trash boom deployed in Matadero Creek safely anchored in concrete walls

Trash boom in Matadero Creek during a large rain event with elevated water levels.

Trash Boom in Matadero Creek during a rain event holding back debris

Trash boom deployed in Adobe Creek showing a large amount of captured debris, including trash and organic materials.

Trash boom deployed in Adobe Creek showing large amount of captured debris