Sewer agencies serving nine East Bay cities have agreed to major upgrades to keep hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage from polluting San Francisco Bay. The improvements will ultimately end the current practice of releasing massive amounts of undertreated sewage from the cities into the Bay during rainy weather.
“This agreement requires upgrades of a huge scope, and will lead to an enormous improvement in the long-term health of the Bay, as well as the safety of those who spend time in and on the Bay,” said Deb Self, Baykeeper Executive Director. The agreement is a result of joint legal action by San Francisco Baykeeper, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the California Water Board, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation.
The cities of Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont, and the Stege Sanitary District—serving El Cerrito, Kensington, and part of Richmond—have crumbling sewer pipes. During significant rain storms, the sewer pipes allow massive amounts of rainwater to seep in. The volume of raw sewage mixed with rainwater is too large for the East Bay’s main wastewater treatment plant, operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). So EBMUD diverts the mixture to three wet weather treatment plants, where the diluted sewage is partly treated and quickly released into San Francisco Bay.
During the rainy season, EBMUD wet weather plants discharge millions of gallons of undertreated sewage mixed with polluted storm water into the Bay. In very rainy years, the plants can discharge hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated water.
Now, the sewer agencies serving the nine East Bay cities will make major investments to replace outdated pipes and infrastructure over the next 21 years. The required upgrades will gradually reduce, then eliminate, releases of undertreated sewage into the Bay from the wet weather treatment plants.
Another pollution problem caused by the East Bay cities’ outdated sewer pipes is that the pipes back up, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage spills into streets. The raw sewage gets washed into storm drains that empty directly into the Bay, without filtering or treatment. The sewage agencies’ replacement of old pipes will also minimize spills of raw sewage into city streets and storm drains.
In addition to requiring infrastructure improvements, the finalized agreement also strengthens a program already in force requiring that when homes in the East Bay cities are sold, worn-out sewer lines connecting the homes to the sewer system are replaced.
Baykeeper and our partners first brought suit to require cleanup in 2009, and reached an interim settlement agreement in 2011. Since then, the East Bay sewer agencies have begun making initial repairs, while planning the longer-term infrastructure improvements needed to eliminate illegal sewer spills and overflows.
Raw sewage overflows and inadequately-treated discharges from sewer systems pollute the Bay with harmful substances that include disease-causing organisms. Swimmers, surfers, and others who come in contact with sewage-contaminated water can get persistent skin and sinus infections and painful stomach disorders. Sewage pollution also threatens wildlife and can make fish caught in the Bay unsafe to eat.
This legally-binding agreement for cleanup of sewage pollution in the Bay is the latest progress in Baykeeper’s Sick of Sewage Campaign. Baykeeper legal actions in this campaign have previously resulted in sewer agencies serving 20 Bay Area cities, including these in the East Bay, being required to upgrade their infrastructure in order to reduce their pollution of the Bay. Repairs are ongoing, or in some cases complete, at sewer agencies serving 11 Peninsula cities.
Baykeeper is watching the progress of repairs in all 20 cities closely, and we will take further action if the repairs fall short. We will continue our legal action and monitoring until sewage ceases to be a major pollution problem in San Francisco Bay.