Bay Crossings Article

Working the Capitol for a Healthier San Francisco Bay

By 
Deb Self, Executive Director
From the December 2009 edition of Bay Crossings

At the beginning of the 2009 California Legislative Session, there were few reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of passing new laws to protect San Francisco Bay.  California’s budget shortfall had reached billions of dollars, and Governor Schwarzenegger had signaled his intent to veto most of the bills that reached his desk if Legislators didn’t reach a budget compromise.  But despite formidable obstacles, San Francisco Baykeeper helped pass two important pieces of legislation this year—one to clean up abandoned boats in California’s waterways and the other to help keep sewage pollution out of the Bay.

Abandoned Boats
With fuel prices on the rise and poor fishing conditions, boat abandonment is on the rise in the Bay-Delta, and in all of California’s waterways.  The presence of decaying boats in our waterways poses not only a navigational hazard, but an environmental and public safety hazard as well.  As boats deteriorate and sink, they can leak pollutants like oil, gasoline and sewage and shed peeling paint contaminated with lead, mercury and chromium.  These pollutants can poison the Bay’s aquatic food chain, endangering fish, birds, marine mammals and people. In response to a growing number of derelict boats in Bay-Delta waters, Baykeeper sponsored a state bill to establish a new program that will help prevent people from abandoning their boats.  The bill, authored by Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), passed the California Legislature unanimously and was signed by the Governor in October.  Now, a pilot program will allow boaters to surrender vessels free of charge and authorize local government agencies to take possession of the vessel before it is left to deteriorate in waterways for months or years.  As a result of the new program, we expect the State to save thousands of dollars in haul out costs for every boat turned in, and we hope to put an end to the boat abandonment trend.

Sewage Spills
Baykeeper has been working to rein in the Bay’s sewage spill problem for over a decade, compelling cities and sanitation agencies to reduce sewage overflows.   Illegal spills of raw or partially treated sewage occur frequently in the Bay Area when heavy rains overwhelm aging pipes and poorly maintained sewer systems.  Many Bay Area residents will remember southern Marin’s overflows last year, which resulted from deferred maintenance of sewer lines and treatment plants. In 2008, more than two million gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage were illegally discharged into Bay waters from Marin County.  And, last February, a southern Marin County sanitation district spilled another 500,000 gallons of sewage into the Bay.  

This year, Baykeeper partnered with Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-Marin) to pass legislation to address southern Marin’s sewage spill problem.  The new law empowers Marin authorities to implement cost-saving reforms for local wastewater governance, including the consolidation of southern Marin’s eleven small wastewater agencies into a more efficient system of wastewater agencies.  We believe that consolidation of small sewage agencies will result in better management of Marin’s sewage infrastructure and, ultimately, less sewage pollution in the Bay. 

Even as we celebrate our success in Sacramento, our work for the coming year has already begun.   The Bay suffered its second sizeable oil spill in two years, providing an opportunity to build on the oil spill policy reforms we fought for in the wake of the Cosco Busan spill.  In the coming year Baykeeper will be working to make sure the seven oil spill bills passed last year are thoroughly implemented and funded, and we’ll be examining whether existing fuel transfer regulations are adequate to protect the Bay  from the 800-plus fuel transfers that happen in the Bay every year.

For information and updates about our agenda for clean water in the coming year visit www.baykeeper.org.