Baykeeper’s Sick of Sewage campaign is making major progress toward solving the region-wide problem of sewage spills that pollute San Francisco Bay. We have put the region’s worst-polluting sewage agencies on a path to success.
This year, as in years past, crumbling Bay Area sewage systems spilled millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage into the Bay. Sewage contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. When windsurfers, swimmers, fishermen and others come in contact with water contaminated with sewage, it can cause persistent skin infections and painful stomach disorders. Sewage can also deplete oxygen in the Bay, threatening fish, seals and other sea plant and animal life.
But now, Baykeeper’s Sick of Sewage campaign is turning the tide. Baykeeper has brought legal action under the Clean Water Act to hold polluters accountable for illegal sewage spills. In all, we have secured legally-binding agreements compelling major sewer repairs and infrastructure upgrades in 20 Bay Area cities.
These agreements require sewage agencies to replace miles of cracked pipes, boost inspections and clean up their operations year by year. Baykeeper is carefully monitoring sewage systems where we have agreements requiring upgrades. For the systems where our agreements have been in effect for a year or more, we are happy that we can mostly report improvements:
Burlingame reduced its sewage spills from 23 in 2007 to 14 in 2011. In the past year, Burlingame cleaned approximately 77 miles of sewer pipelines and replaced or rehabilitated 3,451 feet of pipeline.
Burlingame Hills reported only two sewage spills in 2011 and is working with Burlingame and Hillsborough to schedule preventive maintenance and assess problem areas in the three cities’ connected sewer systems.
Hillsborough reported 19 spills in 2011, down from 45 in 2008. To make progress toward a longer-term goal of reducing spills still further, Hillsborough is collaborating with Burlingame and Burlingame Hills to solve system-wide capacity problems.
Millbrae made progress reducing spills in 2010, but in 2011 exceeded the limit allowed under its agreement with Baykeeper, with 49 spills. Millbrae has submitted a required Action Plan to Baykeeper, focusing on two neighborhoods where a high number of sewage spills occurred; increased cleaning; and replacement of pipes and other improvements. Baykeeper will continue to closely monitor Millbrae’s efforts.
Richmond/West County Wastewater District is slowly progressing on sewer line repairs, but still releases too much sewage into the Bay. They must submit an Action Plan to Baykeeper for improving performance, and we’ll be working closely with them in the coming year.
South San Francisco has made great improvements, reducing sewage spills to six, and will keep upgrading its system over the next five years.
San Bruno achieved a dramatic reduction from 54 sewage spills in 2008 to only 14 in 2011, and is on track to inspect its entire system by mid-2012.
San Carlos was within its limit with 30 sewage spills in 2011, and will continue cleaning and maintenance efforts to further reduce spills.
For more information on sewage spills this year, see Baykeeper’s online interactive sewage spill map.
Baykeeper will continue closely monitoring systems where we have legal agreements requiring upgrades and repairs over the next several years. As these systems continue to improve their performance, we expect to achieve steep reductions in sewage spills to the Bay. Within the next ten years, sewage spills should cease to be a major threat to the Bay’s health and the health of the Bay’s wildlife, swimmers, sailors, surfers, shoreline walkers, kayakers and kiters.
Photo by chadh (Flickr/CC)