Historic Rains Bring Massive Sewage Spills into SF Bay

Jan 6, 2023

Agencies Must Improve Sewage Systems to Meet Known Challenges

OAKLAND—Reports indicate that recent heavy rains overwhelmed the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s sewage treatment plants. This means the agency has already possibly released millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage directly into the Bay, with even more rains on the way. The ongoing atmospheric river storms currently hitting the Bay Area may also be causing numerous new sewage spills from sewer pipes and other treatment systems around the Bay.

Much of the Bay Area’s stormwater system is decades old, and the wastewater pipes that should be closed to rainwater are failing. During large storm events, this means rainwater enters cracks in sewage pipes and overwhelms treatment plants. Consequently, local agencies are forced to discharge raw and partially treated sewage into the Bay.

Sewage pollution contains bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens that can make people sick and can kill fish and other wildlife. People should stay out of the Bay and local creeks for at least 72 hours after the rain ends to be sure the water is safe.


In response, Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh issued the following statement:

“We can see that climate change is fueling more and more violent storms, yet the Bay Area’s sewage treatment plants are sorely outdated. Much of our sewage treatment system is unable to handle the increasing frequency and intensity of our regular winter storms.

“There’s a two-part solution that requires significant infrastructure investments. First, sewage pipes need to be repaired, updated, and maintained to prevent large volumes of storm water from entering the sewer system. And more importantly, sewage treatment plants need to be updated so that they’re not discharging raw sewage into the Bay.

“As a bonus, the same upgrades that will stop sewage facilities from dumping raw sewage into the Bay every time it rains will also prevent the pollution that leads to the red tides and catastrophic fish deaths that the Bay experienced this past summer. Upgrading our sewage treatment plants will be a win all around."

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