Happy 50th birthday to the Clean Water Act! This law has been Baykeeper’s primary legal tool for the past thirty-plus years, helping us win hundreds of victories for the Bay and the people of the Bay Area. Before the act was adopted, there were few ways for public activists to fight the agencies and corporations that were polluting our communities and our environment. But that all changed on October 18, 1972.
The Clean Water Act gave state and federal agencies the power to hold polluters in check, and it provided funding for federal pollution prevention programs. More importantly, the law states that “any person” has the legal right to make sure that the act is upheld and can sue to enforce federal and state water quality protections. That provision gives Baykeeper’s lawyers legal footing to defend the Bay and protect clean water for everyone in the Bay Area.
When Baykeeper wins a Clean Water Act lawsuit, most often the polluter we prevailed against in court has to fix the problems that caused the pollution in the first place. But there can be many additional benefits as well.
Back in 1994, Exxon and Unocal had to invest nearly $5 million to upgrade their oil refineries to reduce selenium discharges into the Bay. The Levin shipping terminal in Richmond had to stop polluting the Bay and nearby neighborhoods by investing over $2 million to clean up its coal-loading operation in 2014. The City of San Jose agreed to invest over $100 million to upgrade its failing storm water systems that were polluting the Bay after we sued the city under the act in 2019.
Often, our settlements include what’s called a “supplemental environmental project,” resulting from a hefty fine on the polluter for its past pollution. When settlements include this element, the polluter learns that it hurts their bottom line to pollute. And the funds go directly to support other local non-profit projects that will deliver a real environmental and public health benefit.
Over the years, Baykeeper’s Clean Water Act lawsuits have secured over $12 million for non-profits working on restoration, education, health, and environmental justice efforts around the Bay Area. Much of that funding is awarded as grassroots grants through the Oakland-based Rose Foundation for the Environment. Our settlement agreements direct the funds to the Rose Foundation, which in turn identifies worthy projects to receive the funds and then administers the grants.
Through this partnership, Baykeeper’s settlement funds have supported hundreds of local and neighborhood projects ranging from policy planning and health education, to creek restoration and painting stencils next to storm drains. Here are just a handful of the organizations we’ve been proud to support:
Literacy for Environmental Justice—Toxic soil sampling in SF Bayview
GreenAction—Environmental justice and health projects
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance—Delta water quality project
West County Toxics Coalition—Shoreline clean-up and restoration in Richmond
Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment—Central Valley pesticide reduction
San Joaquin Audubon Society—San Joaquin River restoration
Greenbelt Alliance—Mercury reduction programs
Alameda Creek Alliance—Creek restoration
Communities for a Better Environment—Toxic fallout remediation
Turtle Island Restoration Network—Salmon and watershed protection
Friends of the River—Bay-Delta ecosystem and Mokelumne River protection planning
Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates—Environmental justice education
Green City Project—Oakland storm drain stenciling
Student Conservation Association—San Mateo parks conservation crew
Hunters View Mothers Committee for Health—Community health, equity, and justice
Friends of Napa River—River restoration
Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate—Point Molate conservation
Friends of Sausal Creek—Creek restoration
New Voices Rising—Environmental education in East Palo Alto and Redwood City
Wild Oyster Project—Watershed stewardship
Sonoma Ecology Center—Fire recovery, resiliency education in under-resourced areas
East Bay Academy for Young Scientists—Creek restoration and watershed research
Friends of Pinole Creek—Creek restoration
Friends of Peralta Hacienda Park—Youth watershed internships at Refugio Creek
Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition—Coyote Creek cleanup project
Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition—Environmental justice programs
The Watershed Project—East Bay watershed education
Photo: Daniel Parks, Flickr/CC