Baykeeper Announces Intent to Sue San Jose to Stop Runoff Pollution to the Bay

Nov 24, 2014

Today Baykeeper sent the City of San Jose a notice that we intend to sue the city for failing to keep trash, fecal bacteria, and other pollution from washing into major creeks and tributaries to San Francisco Bay. Baykeeper conducted a two-year investigation that shows San Jose has some of the highest levels of polluted storm water runoff of any city in the Bay Area.

“Our investigation shows that runoff from San Jose consistently includes large amounts of trash and dangerous levels of bacteria,” said Sejal Choksi, Baykeeper Program Director. “This pollution is having a major impact on the health of San Francisco Bay.”

Runoff from San Jose carries pollution into Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek. Trash collects in large rafts in the river and creek and is carried to San Francisco Bay during storms. Seals, shorebirds, and other wildlife are at risk for eating smaller pieces or getting trapped in debris.

San Jose’s runoff also contains high levels of fecal bacteria. People who spend time in or on the water during wet weather are at greater risk of illnesses and infection when exposed to this contamination.

Additionally, high bacteria levels and trash harm fish that spawn and spend their early life in the river and creek— including Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead.

A Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit requires most Bay Area cities to reduce pollution that washes into the Bay from urban storm drains in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. San Jose is not meeting the terms of the permit.

Baykeeper aims to compel San Jose to focus on new and effective controls that will significantly reduce polluted storm water runoff. These include trash capture devices, and green infrastructure measures such as infiltration controls that can have many additional benefits, including increasing the capture of storm water for use in landscaping.

Baykeeper anticipates working closely with San Jose city leaders to evaluate the sources of trash and bacteria in the city’s runoff, and to create a schedule to implement effective pollution controls as quickly as possible.

“Especially in the context of repeated drought years in California, storm water must be treated as a resource rather than wasted,” says Choksi. “This lawsuit provides San Jose with the opportunity to join the 21st Century in storm water management and demonstrate a commitment to being a green and Bay-friendly city.”

The Regional Water Quality Control Board recently ordered San Jose to take the first steps to reduce pollution discharged from the largest homeless community in the nation, known as San Jose’s “Jungle.”  Baykeeper’s lawsuit will broaden the focus to region-wide sources of pollution and allow Baykeeper and local regulators to prioritize and collaboratively resolve the harmful levels of trash and bacteria in of the city’s creeks and San Francisco Bay.

Urban storm water runoff is widely considered to be the largest source of pollution in San Francisco Bay. When rain falls on streets, roofs, parking lots, and other hard surfaces, it washes trash and other pollutants into gutters and storm drains. In most Bay Area cities, storm drains drain directly into the Bay, or they empty into local creeks and rivers that flow to San Francisco Bay, without filtration or treatment.

Baykeeper has invested 25 years in advocating for tougher requirements on Bay Area cities to protect the Bay from polluted urban runoff, including helping develop the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit and providing Bay Area cities with expert recommendations for reducing storm water pollution.  Baykeeper’s successful Bay-Safe Industry Campaign also requires polluting industrial facilities to install greener controls to protect the Bay and its tributaries from contaminated storm water runoff.

Learn more about Baykeeper’s work to stop urban storm water pollution of San Francisco Bay.

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