Baykeeper's Legal Actions Reduce Sewage Spills in the Bay

Feb 15, 2012

As a result of Baykeeper’s Sick of Sewage campaign, fewer sewage spills are draining into San Francisco Bay and into storm drains, creeks, rivers and sloughs that lead to the Bay. Baykeeper’s legal actions have compelled sewage agencies serving 20 Bay Area cities to make upgrades and repairs to stop spills. We now have legally-binding agreements with these sewage systems requiring them to improve their sewage pipes and infrastructure year by year.

To ensure sewage systems are making progress toward reducing spills, each year Baykeeper monitors the past year’s results of our legally-binding agreements. Here are summaries of progress made in recent years:

Progress During 2013

Little rain fell during the 2013-14 rainy season, as California experienced a severe drought. Rain is a primary factor in sewage spills, because old and leaky sewer pipes become inundated with rainwater, which overwhelms pipes and treatment systems, causing spills and overflows. Because there was so little rain, there were far fewer sewage spills to the Bay than in previous years.

Even so, upgrades to Bay Area sewage infrastructure are needed to keep sewage out of the Bay even during relatively dry years, and will be needed in the future to protect the Bay in heavier rainy seasons. Baykeeper is closely monitoring the repair and upgrade process of the sewer systems with which we have agreements, to ensure that progress in protecting the Bay from sewage contamination continues.

All of the sewer agencies under legally-binding cleanup agreements with Baykeeper continued to make progress on repairs and upgrades to reduce sewage spills into San Francisco Bay. However, two agencies, serving Richmond/West County and Oakland, were responsible for large spills. We are now working closely with both cities to plan infrastructure improvements and repairs to improve their systems. Oakland’s sewer agency agreed to major system upgrades as part of a July 2014 agreement between Baykeeper, the EPA, nine East Bay cities, and the East Bay Municipal Utility District to stop massive sewage-contaminated overflows to the Bay.

Progress During 2012

Burlingame reduced its number of sewage spills from its main lines from 23 in 2007 to six in 2012. The city was also far below its limit on spills from the pipes connecting homes and businesses to the main lines. Burlingame is well ahead of its required timetable to reduce sewage spills.

Burlingame Hills reduced its sewage spills in 2012 to a rate below the limit set by Baykeeper. The sewer agency is working with other districts in San Mateo County to schedule preventive maintenance work and assess problem areas.

Hillsborough reported 11 spills in 2012, down from 45 in 2008. Hillsborough is now working to correct system-wide capacity problems, in collaboration with Burlingame and Burlingame Hills. Fixing capacity problems requires costly, long-term projects, so it takes longer to reduce sewage spill rates.

Millbrae made major progress in 2012, after exceeding the limit of sewage spills allowed under its agreement with Baykeeper in 2011. Millbrae had 13 sewage spills in 2012, down from 2011’s 49. Over the past year, Millbrae focused on its problems areas and is now back on track to continue meeting its obligations to reduce sewage spills.

Richmond/West County Wastewater District has had sewage capacity problems for years, and is slowly progressing on sewer line repairs. Although Richmond has reduced its sewage spill rate somewhat, the city still has the highest volume of spilled sewage in California. Baykeeper is working on several fronts to get Richmond’s problems under control. Our advocacy recently led to a tightening of Richmond’s sewage discharge permit that puts limits on Richmond’s discharge of mixtures of treated and untreated sewage into the Bay. Over the coming year, we will continue to work closely with Richmond to improve the city’s sewer system performance.

South San Francisco has made great improvements in a short time. Baykeeper’s legal agreement required South San Francisco to fix its sewage pollution problem within five years, but the city has finished three years ahead of schedule. We are extremely pleased with the city’s efforts and the resulting decrease in pollution in the Bay. Learn more about South San Francisco cleaning up its sewage spills to the Bay.

San Bruno achieved a dramatic reduction from 54 sewage spills in 2008 to 12 in 2012, and the city is well ahead of its requirements for reducing sewage spills.

San Carlos had 12 sewage spills in its main lines and 13 spills in the pipes that connect homes and businesses to the main lines. San Carlos is ahead of its timetable for reducing main line sewage spills, and the city will continue its efforts to repair and clean its sewer system.

Progress During 2011

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.

Progress During 2010

Burlingame reduced its number of sewage spills from 23 in 2007 to 12 in 2010, and rehabilitated 11,500 feet of sewer mains in four locations throughout the city.

Burlingame Hills reported only 5 spills and is scheduling preventive maintenance work to address problem areas.

Hillsborough reported 17 spills in the areas covered by our settlement agreement, down from 47 system-wide in 2008.

Millbrae reported 34 spills, compared to 79 spills in 2008.

San Carlos reported 27 spills, down from 65 in 2008. San Carlos is ahead of schedule on its compliance requirements, thanks to more frequent cleaning and maintenance efforts.

Read more about Baykeeper's legal actions to reduce sewage spills.

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