Help Prevent Sewage Spills into the Bay

Used water from our toilets, sinks, showers and washing machines travels from our homes and businesses through a complex maze under city streets to a treatment plant, where bacteria and pollutants are removed before the water is sent into San Francisco Bay. Along the way, a lot can go wrong, potentially spewing dirty wastewater into basements, city streets and waterways.

Here's how you can help prevent sewage spills into the Bay:

In Your Home

  • Minimize water use when it's raining. Wait to wash clothes or run the dishwasher until the rain stops to lessen the burden on the sanitary system. Reduce water use by installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, and turn off the water when you shave or brush your teeth.
  • Dispose of household chemicals and automotive fluids properly – not down household drains or curbside storm drains. Anything you put down sinks and storm drains can end up in local creeks and the Bay or ocean.
  • Don’t put fats, oils or grease down the drain. These substances clog both your plumbing and the sewer system, causing backups.
    • Pour cooled fats, oils and grease into a can with a lid, or mix it with an absorbent material such as cat litter, and put it in the trash.
    • Wipe down greasy pans and dishes with a paper towel. Dispose of the paper towel in your kitchen scrap recycling or in the garbage.
    • Don’t use hot water or the garbage disposal to wash grease down the drain. Water cools through the pipes, causing the grease to harden into clogs further along in the sewer system.
    • Drop off large amounts of cooking oil – like used oil from a turkey fryer – at grease recycling locations. See a list of Bay Area recycling sites here.

On Your Property

  • Inspect your sewer cleanout. The cleanout typically is a small pipe, about 4 inches in diameter, used to access the lateral line for cleaning. Make sure the cap to the cleanout pipe is on and has not been damaged, and replace it if necessary to prevent rain water from entering the sewer system.
  • Have your household sewer line inspected and replaced if necessary (or urge your landlord to do so). A lateral line connects the pipes in your house to the main city sewer pipes. Lateral lines are often old and frequently cause sewer backups from blockages or tree roots. Call your local Department of Public Works for more information on local grants or loans to help cover the costs.
  • Avoid planting trees and shrubs near your household sewer line. Plant roots are one of the most common causes of lateral line problems.
  • Eliminate any connections between your storm sewer pipes and sanitary sewer pipes. Disconnect downspouts and sump pumps if they are connected to the sanitary sewer system. These connections cause spills and are illegal.
  • Consider installing a gray water system to capture and reuse nearly-clean water for your garden.

In Your Community

  • Help your city build Bay-friendly sewage systems. Learn more about the sewer systems where you live, and support funding increases for infrastructure repairs and upgrades. It’s important that we invest in maintaining effective sewer pipes in order to reduce pollution to the Bay.
  • Become a member of San Francisco Baykeeper. Help support our Sick of Sewage Campaign by making a contribution today.