Baykeeper Update

Baykeeper Challenges Weakened Rules on Trash in the Bay

Baykeeper recently challenged new rules that make it harder to stop trash and other pollution from storm water runoff in San Francisco Bay. We filed an appeal with the State Water Resources Control Board seeking to overturn provisions of the rules that fail to protect the Bay’s water quality.

The rules, officially known as the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit, have been in effect since 2009. They require Bay Area city governments to reduce pollution that washes off city streets and into the Bay during rain storms. But cities have made little progress.

Despite the harm caused by contaminated runoff, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board recently weakened the rules. The Board included an illegal “safe harbor” provision that lets cities shirk responsibility for taking action to keep trash and other pollution out of the Bay, as long as the cities create plans to do so. Baykeeper is challenging this provision because it violates both the federal Clean Water Act and the State Water Board’s own guidance to Regional Water Boards.

Critically, the new rules also don’t require cities to monitor the amount of trash and other pollution flowing into the Bay or its tributaries. This makes it impossible to know how much pollution the cities’ runoff is causing, or whether any pollution controls that cities implement are working.

Rules on storm water runoff have also recently been weakened in other areas of California. Baykeeper is coordinating closely with our sister groups San Diego Coastkeeper and Los Angeles Waterkeeper. Both are filing similar challenges to weakened storm water rules for their regions.

Storm water runoff is one of the most significant sources of water pollution in the nation and a leading cause of contamination in San Francisco Bay. Trash and other runoff pollution can harm or kill wildlife, and cause illness in people who spend time on or near the water.

In addition to fighting for tougher rules on storm water runoff, Baykeeper is using litigation to reduce this pollution. Earlier this year, Baykeeper sued the city of San Jose for failing to keep trash, fecal bacteria, and other pollution out of two tributaries to the Bay, Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River. San Jose has some of the highest levels of pollution in storm water runoff in the Bay Area. We’re working with San Jose city leaders toward new and effective pollution controls, including those that capture storm water for re-use during drought. 

Baykeeper also helped develop the original rules requiring Bay Area cities to reduce storm water pollution to the Bay. In addition, we provided cities with expert recommendations for how to go about it. Unfortunately, few of our recommendations have been implemented.

Baykeeper will continue our efforts to defend the Bay from trash and other storm water pollution. If the State Water Board fails to act or rejects Baykeeper’s petition, we plan to file a further challenge in state court.