San Francisco Bay’s water quality improves after long-term cleanup efforts

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David Rodriguez/Staff

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Recently, the water quality in the San Francisco Bay has been showing signs of improvement, partly thanks to decades of environmental cleanup efforts.

Bill Keener, a research biologist at Golden Gate Cetacean Research, spotted harbor porpoises returning to the bay about 10 years ago — today, they can be seen in the bay on a daily basis. Keener credits the improvements in water quality to state and federal clean water acts and decades of efforts by organizations such as Save the Bay.

“In many ways, mammals are a secondary indicator of the health of the bay,” said Cara Field, a veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center. “The mammals go to where there is more prey available and the prey are found where the water is better.”

Nonprofit environmental advocacy organization San Francisco Baykeeper, or SF Baykeeper, is in its 29th year of working to improve the bay’s water quality. The organization monitors industrial pollution, stormwater runoff, wastewater and sewage spills, and enforces regulations and permits that are part of state and federal environmental law.

“First we notify polluters if we find a violation,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director and baykeeper of SF Baykeeper. “We have a team of scientists too that can help bring the facility into compliance, and then we follow closely and work with them for three years.”

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, addressed pollution from stormwater and sewage overflow with public information campaigns about materials that can clog sewer lines. EBMUD also works with cities to improve leaky feeder lines that can overwhelm the treatment facility with stormwater, according to Eileen White, director of wastewater at EBMUD.

“We take the San Francisco Bay very seriously and we are proud of our partnerships,” White said.

The city of Berkeley has undertaken efforts to address pollution by collecting runoff and filtering it through bioswales, landscape features that help to remove pollutants from water, before the runoff drains into waterways.

Berkeley has installed a number of these systems, which also reduce flooding during heavy rains, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. A new project planned for King School Park that will filter water running into Codornices Creek has an estimated cost of $1.2 million.

Choksi-Chugh said that although there have been improvements in visible pollutants such as raw sewage and trash, invisible pollutants such as mercury and PCBs that accumulate up food chains and harm wildlife are still a major concern. Choksi-Chugh said freshwater flows also affect the health of the bay.

“Our vision is an SF Bay that is wilder and teeming with wildlife like the olden days where people can recreate and not worry about toxic pollutants when they eat the fish,” Choksi-Chugh said.

Contact Ryan Geller at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @rashadgeller.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Berkeley has installed systems that improve flooding during heavy rains. In fact, the systems reduce flooding.

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  • dwss5

    Article quote:
    “The East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, addressed pollution from stormwater and sewage overflow with public information campaigns about materials that can clog sewer lines. EBMUD also works with cities to improve leaky feeder lines that can overwhelm the treatment facility with stormwater, according to Eileen White, director of wastewater at EBMUD.”

    While the EBMUD is distributing its glowingly-positive PR-spin about the Bay’s water quality, fairly recent reporting from our local East Bay Express tells a somewhat different story.
    In the first paragraph of Kathleen Richards news article ‘Wednesday’s Briefing: Oakland and EBMUD Fined for Sewage Spills Into Bay; Bay Area Home Prices Reach Record Highs’ https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2018/04/25/wednesdays-briefing-oakland-and-ebmud-fined-for-sewage-spills-into-bay-bay-area-home-prices-reach-record-highs :

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined Oakland and EBMUD for allowing untreated sewage into San Francisco Bay. Oakland is facing a fine of $226,500 for failure to prevent sanitary sewer overflows from reaching the bay and failure to repair sewer pipes between 2014 and 2017, in violation of a 2014 Clean Water Act settlement. EBMUD is facing a penalty of $134,000, and the Stege Sanitary District (El Cerrito, Kensington, partsof Richmond) is being fined $26,800. Richmond, Alameda, Albany, and
    Berkeley are facing smaller fines. (San Francisco Chronicle)

    And about a week after this, Gabrielle Canon reported in ‘Oakland’s Sewer Problems Still Stink; The public works department has failed to address larger problems with its sewers. And raw sewage continues to flow into waterways.’ https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/oaklands-sewer-problems-still-stink/Content?oid=15630192 :

    But the public works department appears to be downplaying issues with the sewer system. According to official documents filed with the California State Water Resources Control Board by public works supervisors, more than 70,600 gallons of sewage have flowed into local waterways just since Jan. 1. This includes three particularly large spills: More than 2,000 gallons into Lake Merritt, close to 19,000
    gallons into Temescal Creek, and more than 31,200 gallons into Arroyo Viejo, which flows directly into the bay.