Ask 17 year-old Zak Robushi what’s so special about this summer and he’ll tell you it’s hanging out with a great group of friends by the water. Except — this summer is no day at the beach. It’s hard work cleaning up pipes, wires and other junk that has polluted the Naugatuck River.
“We’re all proud of ourselves,” Zak said. “And I’m proud of the group I belong in.”
That group is called the Waterbury River Brigade. It was formed by Mayor Neil O’Leary as one of the ways the city promised to respond to the series of raw sewage spills last year from Waterbury’s Waste Water Treatment plant. The raw sewage killed dozens of fish in the river — pictures on social media caused concern about the water. So, for 6 weeks this summer, 13 high school and college kids are working 30 hours a week and getting paid $10.50 an hour by the city to put on waders and gloves and trek through the waters looking for trash, junk and debris and to haul it out of the river.
So far, they’ve found it all.
There are piles of trash bags filled with household waste that ended up in the river. They’ve hauled out old pieces of industrial equipment from nearby factories, rusted, steel beams, tires, beer cans and buckets — just to name a few of the things. Environmental activist Kevin Zak, founder of the Naugatuck River Revival Group, volunteered to run the program and is inspired by the passion and dedication the kids are showing in this effort to clean the water.
“I’m so thrilled that this stuff is out of the river that I am overwhelmed,” he said. “it’s a remarkable group of kids. It’s a remarkable program.”
And for the kids like Zak, this is turning out to be about a lot more than just a summer salary.
“Maybe if and when I have kids, I’ll be able to walk down with them they’ll look around and be able to see a clean river — something we weren’t able to see when we first came here or generations before us weren’t able to see,” Zak said. “This is something that’s gonna stick with me for the rest of my life.”