Cities Can't Handle Sewage Onslought

The pressure is on for cities around the Bay Area to reduce a very dirty habit: flushing raw, untreated sewage into the ocean and Bay whenever it rains.

There are a variety of reasons that the sewage overflows happen, but they all boil down to not enough capacity. When it rains, sewer systems are overwhelmed. If the water doesn't overflow into the bay, the only other place for it to go would be back up the way it came. Neither option is particularly attractive.

But it used to be far worse. Until about 40 years ago, sewage discharges were a frequent occurrence. Then in the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency was created under the administration of that hippie Richard Nixon. The EPA's first action against a city was to demand that San Francisco stop dumping so much dirty water.

The solution: build a massive underground sewage moat that encircles the entire city. When it rains, the moat fills will sewage until the city has time to treat it, which can take several days. So while you're walking along the Embarcadero or Great Highway, just remember that there's millions of gallons of muck beneath you in giant tanks.

That's reduced sewage overflows to just a few a year in San Francisco, but that's still too much. And other cities continue to contribute to the Bay's dirty water.

That's why Baykeeper and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma have stepped in to pressure municipalities to further improve their systems. Ma announced Friday new legislation at Aquatic Park that would provide new incentives for overflow reduction.

In addition, Baykeeper has settled a long-standing lawsuit with South San Francisco. Under the terms of the settlement, the city will continue its work to improve capacity, and will also offer grants to homeowners to fix leaky pipes.

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