Smelly sewer lines are not the only things that stink about Oakland’s sewage program. A new investigation has found that the city failed to report and respond to a number of raw sewage spills that ran into neighborhood streets and homes and ended up in storm drains flowing to San Francisco Bay.
The investigation also showed Oakland delayed critical pipeline repairs, while ignoring ongoing issues and downplaying the number of spills.
In 2018, Oakland’s sewer system spilled nearly 150,000 gallons of raw sewage. More than 100,000 gallons contaminated creeks and the Bay, exposing people and wildlife to harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Oakland, which has one of the largest sewer systems in the Bay Area, is legally required to track spills and reduce sewage pollution under a 2014 legal settlement with Baykeeper, the Regional Water Board, and EPA.
Last year, after Baykeeper and Oakland residents raised concerns, the EPA and the Regional Water Board undertook an investigation into Oakland’s ongoing sewage spill problems. And the results are alarming.
The investigation concluded that Oakland’s sewer agency:
- delayed responses to urgent sewage spills that warranted immediate attention;
- conducted ineffective and time-consuming repairs, with shoddy quality control;
- misreported the frequency and volume of sewage spills—possibly in an effort to avoid scrutiny; and
- relied on small fixes of minor lines, when it needed to prioritize the rehabilitation of major sewer pipes (as the legal agreement requires).
These conclusions confirm that Oakland has failed to address the major pollution problems that caused Baykeeper and our agency partners to sue the city five years ago. It’s inexcusable that Oakland has yet to take responsibility for serious defects in its wastewater and sewage treatment program.
The city must ensure accurate reporting and timely response to sewage spills to protect the health of residents and the Bay. And critically, city leaders must approve investments in sewage infrastructure.
If Oakland doesn’t take responsibility and conduct the necessary repairs more effectively, sewage pollution throughout the city and in the Bay will only get worse.