Making Waves at 35: Our Local Wins Made a National Difference

Pesticide danger sign on strawberry field

In celebration of our 35th year of defending San Francisco Bay, each month we’re sharing a significant victory that we’ve won together, and highlighting how it’s still making waves today.

Pesticide runoff from irrigated crops used to be one of the largest unregulated sources of water pollution in California. Back in the late 1990s, scientists were documenting high levels of pesticide pollutants in Central Valley creeks—and at the same time, Baykeeper’s attorneys were building a legal case.

Industrial agriculture has one of the nation’s most powerful lobbies, and it has long used its influence to secure exemptions from environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act. So, our attorneys had to get creative. In 2004, we sued the State of California for not regulating agricultural runoff properly under its own laws.

While the litigation was wending its way through the courts, we organized. Baykeeper led a diverse coalition of over 200 organizations, representing environmental, labor, community, and health advocates to stage protests and rallies during agency hearings.

In the end, we won a groundbreaking set of new pollution controls on agriculture in the Central Valley. It was the first-ever regulatory program for agricultural pesticides in the nation. Now, there are similar regulations in place across the state, and even in some parts of the country. And now, industrial agriculture must comply with state clean water laws, just like every other industry.

Many of Baykeeper’s other local victories have set national precedent, and lead to changes that protect human health and waterways around the country. Some examples include:

  • 2006 Ballast water laws: Baykeeper compelled California to control ballast water from ships to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species into the Bay. Three years later, Baykeeper and a coalition of partners took it to the federal level and won a ruling ordering the EPA to regulate ballast discharges nationwide under the Clean Water Act.
  • 2009 Aquatic spraying laws: Baykeeper won a critical policy victory to protect California creeks, rivers, fish, and other wildlife from pesticides being sprayed directly into waterways. Then, in a landmark decision brought by Baykeeper and allies, a federal court ruled that the Clean Water Act should regulate the spraying of pesticides in waters across the country.
  • 2017 Military vessel cleanup: Baykeeper and our partners brought legal action that made the U.S. Maritime Administration clean up its “ghost fleet” of 50-plus derelict military ships being stored in the Bay. As they decayed, these vessels had been poisoning the Bay’s ecosystem with tons of toxic heavy metals. Now after our action, the federal government applies pollution controls on its mothballed ships across the country.
  • 2019 Buoy maintenance controls: Baykeeper caught the U.S. Coast Guard polluting the Bay with heavy metals and other pollutants during the routine process of maintaining its navigational buoys. Our lawsuit led the Coast Guard to clean up its Bay Area operations and overhaul buoy maintenance programs in waterways across the country.

This work has made waves nationwide—and your support over the years has made it all possible. You can learn about these victories and more by clicking on the image of Baykeeper’s new timeline of historic wins below.