Act Now: Don’t Let Algae Blooms Become Our New Normal

For two years in a row, algae blooms and fish kills have cast light on a threat to the Bay that’s usually invisible: nutrient pollution. 

While nutrients sound like a good thing, excessive phosphorus and nitrogen – combined with warm sunny weather and stagnant water – provide ideal conditions for many types of algae to bloom, like the “red tide” that recently spread throughout the Bay.

In the summers of 2022 and 2023, Baykeeper received numerous pollution hotline reports of murky, reddish-brown waters in different parts of the Bay. In 2022, the red tide quickly spread from the East Bay to San Francisco, the Central Bay, and the South Bay. By August, our hotline received reports of unprecedented numbers of dead fish—including bat rays, sharks, and sturgeon—and other creatures washing up on the Bay’s shores.  

Of all the factors that lead to harmful algal blooms, only one—nutrient pollution—is something we can control. The high levels of nutrients in the Bay primarily come from the region’s 37 wastewater plants, because our old technology means that even treated sewage discharges still contain a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus. In fact, San Francisco Bay has some of the highest nutrient levels of any estuary in the world.

Luckily, there are solutions, including upgrading wastewater plants to recycle water and capture nutrients before they enter the Bay. Our region’s wastewater plants can also filter discharges through wetlands where marshes can absorb – and benefit from – excess nutrients. But these solutions can be very expensive (we’re talking billions of dollars) and take years to fully implement. And the closer we try to get to zero nutrient discharges, the more expensive it is. So we need to understand the science better to know what level of nutrients have to be removed to protect the Bay.

That’s why Baykeeper has been prioritizing collaborating with the Regional Water Board and local wastewater agencies on a “Nutrient Management Strategy.” To prevent future toxic blooms in the Bay, the Regional Board must accelerate the pace of this critical research effort and use the results to set new, more protective water quality standards for San Francisco Bay.

Sign our petition urging the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to follow the science and reduce the nutrient discharges dumped into the Bay

Red tide along shoreline in Alameda by Noah Berger SF Chronicle
A red tide along the Alameda shoreline in 2022 (Photo courtesy of Noah Berger / San Francisco Chronicle)

Sign our petition urging the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to act now to prevent toxic algae blooms in the Bay