San Francisco Caught Dumping Millions of Gallons of Sewage Into SF Bay Every Year

Water flowing out of sluice gates on Mission Creek in San Francisco

Baykeeper Issues Notice to Sue SFPUC for Hundreds of Clean Water Act Violations   

Oakland, CA—San Francisco Baykeeper recently issued a notice of intent to take legal action against the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the City and County of San Francisco for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. The nonprofit watchdog organization obtained information through public records requests from SFPUC, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and identified hundreds of Clean Water Act violations over the last five years.   

These violations include repeated discharges of mixed sewage and trash-filled urban runoff into San Francisco Bay during heavy rains. SFPUC documents estimate that in a typical year, the agency discharges 1.2 billion gallons of combined stormwater runoff and sewage, which contains feces, bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and trash. In a wet year, the volume of discharge can exceed 2 billion gallons. 

SFPUC estimates that six percent of its total discharge is sewage. In a wet year, this is equivalent to 120 million gallons, or enough to fill approximately 180 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  

”San Francisco is dumping raw sewage and trash directly into the Bay at a magnitude that’s almost incomprehensible,” said Baykeeper managing attorney Eric Buescher. “Sewage and stormwater pollution is, by volume, the single greatest source of pollution in the Bay, and San Francisco is likely the greatest source of that sewage pollution–which includes the pollution that causes fish-killing algae blooms.” 

Agency documents show that sewage and runoff pollution cause dangerous levels of E. coliand other bacteria near discharge points, creating a serious public health risk. Nearly all of SFPUC’s discharges go into Mission Creek and Islais Creek, two waterways along which people live, fish, and recreate. The contamination has led the city to close beaches and waterways on numerous occasions over the past five years. 

In addition to posing a threat to public health, sewage pollution contributes to the high levels of nitrogen in the Bay. Excessive nitrogen is one of the factors that leads to the algae blooms that have killed tens of thousands of fish in the Bay over the past two summers.  

Baykeeper’s field investigators have visited Mission Creek after SFPUC’s combined sewer discharges and confirmed the presence of fecal matter in the water, as well as large volumes of urban trash, including plastics, syringes, and condoms. 

“The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission appears to be operating on the assumption that its sewage discharges receive treatment and don’t cause harm, but the evidence demonstrates that those assumptions are wrong,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Baykeeper’s executive director. “There’s no excuse for polluting the Bay with sewage and trash, and those who pollute must be held accountable. Dumping millions of gallons of untreated sewage into Mission Creek and the Bay is unacceptable, avoidable, and illegal. San Francisco Bay and the people of the Bay Area deserve better.” 

Photo: SFPUC via Public Records Act