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San Francisco Baykeeper fights to stop sewage spills in the Bay

By Gary Bogue
Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 7:08 am in Baykeeper, San Francisco Bay.

Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Flickr user Tim Pearce used under a Creative Commons License.
ggbridge1 tim pearce

A New Wave of Legal Action to Stop Sewage Spills to the Bay, Baykeeper Files Three New Lawsuits, Investigates Next Targets

(S.F. Bay Area, CA) — San Francisco Baykeeper filed three new lawsuits today (Dec. 2) to prevent sewage spills to San Francisco Bay from the City of Millbrae, the City of San Carlos and the West Bay Sanitation District.  Baykeeper’s lawsuits against the South Bay entities are the latest in a string of Clean Water Act enforcement cases designed to improve wastewater management throughout the Bay Area.

Bay Bridge San Francisco from Coit Tower. Photo by Flickr user Wouter Kiel used under a Creative Commons License.
baybridge1 wouter kiel

Over the past 10 years, Baykeeper has brought lawsuits to rein in sewage spills from treatment facilities and sewer systems owned by the Cities of Vallejo, Burlingame and Richmond, as well as the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD).  In this newest round of the organization’s “Sick of Sewage” campaign, Baykeeper’s legal actions are targeting cities with dilapidated sewage collection systems and high rates of upland spills from broken pipes.  According to Baykeeper’s research, the cities’ own records reveal that thousands of gallons of sewage have spilled in violation of clean water laws over the past five years.

Untreated sewage, as well as sewage that has undergone partial treatment, contains pathogens and other pollutants that can cause a variety of illnesses in humans that come into contact with contaminated water and can poison the Bay’s food web and local wildlife.

“Bay Area cities have been able to pass the buck from one administration to the next by deferring maintenance of old sewage pipes.  Baykeeper is determined to protect South Bay beaches and sloughs from sewage contamination,” said Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self.  “The release of untreated sewage near Bair Island, Corkscrew Slough and other favorite recreation areas is a public health nuisance that shouldn’t be tolerated any longer.”

As Baykeeper launches this new round of sewage litigation, its previous efforts are bearing fruit.  In response to Baykeeper’s previous legal actions against EBMUD, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board recently issued individual regulatory permits to the Cities of Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and Stege Sanitary District (the so-called “satellite systems” that send waste to EBMUD).  These new permits allow regulators and the public to better track sewage spills and to hold individual cities accountable for leaky systems that contribute excessive flows to EBMUD’s overextended treatment facilities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has now taken action against the satellite systems, finding them to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and requiring a new round of inspections and sewage system repairs.  Baykeeper supports the recent enforcement actions to help stop East Bay sewage spills but says it is investigating whether additional legal action may be necessary to ensure East Bay cities are keeping sewage out of the Bay.

Dear readers:
For those of you who don’t know, San Francisco Baykeeper is the Bay’s pollution watchdog, using science and advocacy to enforce clean water laws and hold polluters accountable. For more information about these good guys, you can check them out at http://www.baykeeper.org. /Gary

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