Baykeeper Update

Strengthening Long-Term Plans to Protect the Bay

Long-term plans for the future of San Francisco Bay shouldn’t make it easier to discharge pollution into the Bay and its tributaries, Baykeeper recently told the Bay Area’s primary water quality regulators.

Baykeeper urged the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board to instead take a proactive approach to focus its limited resources on protecting the Bay, by identifying pressing areas of concern and setting forth clear goals and objectives for improved water quality. We made these recommendations during the board’s process for revising the San Francisco Bay Region Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan sets terms and standards for permits that sewage plants, industrial facilities and other sites must obtain to discharge treated wastewater into San Francisco Bay and its tributaries. The plan also provides the general framework for regulating the Bay’s water quality. Periodically, the plan gets revised, with input from the public.

The existing Basin Plan is clearly outdated, calling for the status quo of years ago. It does not reflect significant regulatory changes in recent years. For example, the plan does not reflect that new development projects around the Bay are required to include low impact design elements that slow the flow of rainwater and allow it to percolate into the soil, preventing polluted storm water runoff from entering creeks, rivers and the Bay. Another significant regulatory change is tighter regulations on oil spill prevention and response.

Baykeeper’s input included recommending that the Basin Plan address pressing Bay water pollution issues. One pressing issue is urban storm water runoff, the most significant source for some pollutants. The plan needs to be updated to reflect that new low-cost technologies can control this pollution.

Another key issue is the roughly 100,000 chemicals found in industrial processes, consumer products, personal care products and pharmaceuticals, known as “contaminants of emerging concern.” The Basin Plan needs to include action toward controlling pollution in the Bay from these largely-unregulated chemicals.

We also urged the Regional Board to:

  • Set clear numeric limits on pollutants allowed to enter the Bay, instead of the vague limits in the current plan.
  • Close loopholes in current wastewater discharge permits that allow pollution into the Bay.
  • Play a more active role in oil spill prevention and response.

In addition, we recommended that the Regional Board drop its proposed changes to the Basin Plan that will loosen limits on pollutants.

Our recommendations to the Regional Board were supported by our partner citizen groups Clean Water Action California and the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge.

The Basin Plan is not the only plan designed to manage the Bay. The Bay Plan, administered by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, deals with such issues as shoreline development, filling of the Bay, shipping channels and wildlife refuges.

Baykeeper advocacy helped add an important amendment to the Bay Plan requiring future shoreline development to take into account possible sea level rise due to global climate change. We are also asking the Regional Board to create new policies in the Basin Plan to protect the Bay’s water quality from future sea level rise.

Baykeeper will continue to take every opportunity to advocate for plans and policies that provide maximum protection for San Francisco Bay.