East Bay cities settle sewage suit

East Bay cities settle sewage suit

Michele Ellson
broken sewer pipe

Updated at 3:22 p.m. Monday, July 28

Alameda and a list of other East Bay cities and wastewater districts will fix aging sewers in an effort to keep sewage from spilling into San Francisco Bay and the Oakland/Alameda Estuary as part of a lawsuit settlement announced Monday.

Property owners, six cities and two wastewater districts will split the $1.5 billion cost of upgrading and maintaining the system over the next 22 years, state and federal environmental officials said during a press conference on Robert W. Crown State Beach, which some speakers called a hot spot for sewage contamination.

“This settlement will result in major reductions of sewage discharges into the San Francisco Bay,” said the U.S. Department of Justice’s Walter Benjamin Fisherow.

The cities and wastewater districts will also pay $1.5 million in fines for past lapses.

Wrecked sewer pipes and systems that overflow when heavy rains dump storm water into sewer systems spew hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage and about 600,000 gallons of raw sewage into the bay each year, said Fisherow and Jared Blumenfeld, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. The repairs and upgrades required by the settlement are expected to greatly reduce those numbers.

The sewage can cause infections for people who swim or paddle in the bay and deplete its oxygen supply, threatening fish and other wildlife that live in it. Crown Beach is a hotspot for sewage contamination, said Deb Self of San Francisco Baykeeper, one of two environmental groups that sued.

The Environmental Protection Agency, state and local water quality boards and environmental groups sued for sewer fixes in 2009 after ordering Alameda and the other defendants to better monitor, clean and maintain their sewer systems. In addition to better maintenance and repairs, cities also toughened rules mandating the inspection and repair of homeowners’ sewer connections.

Alameda updated its private sewer lateral ordinance in 2012; it requires property owners to test and repair their laterals if they plan to sell their property or perform $90,000 or more worth of construction. The city's sewer lateral program will be transferred into the East Bay Municipal Utility District's regional program next year, Public Works Director Bob Haun said.

The cost to repair a sewer lateral was estimated at $5,000 to $7,000.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves Alameda, will increase customers’ bills by 1 percent to cover the $110 million officials there expect to pay to fix the district’s wastewater pipelines and conduct other activities required by the settlement, spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said. She said a district-run inspection program has inspected and certified 10 percent of the 160,000 private sewer laterals in the district over the past four years.

The city will pay $3.9 million to replace 2.6 miles of sewer pipes, Haun said. He said most of the sewer pipes on the main Island were installed in the 1920s and 1930s.

"We all believe this was a necessary fix in order to protect the bay. It was just a matter of working through the complex issues with all the parties involved, and with our respective communities," Haun said.

In addition to those costs, the city will pay $111,150 in fines.

The federal environmental agency and environmental groups have filed similar lawsuits across the country in an effort to clear waterways of sewage from leaky pipes. Self, who said similar suits have been settled on the Peninsula and elsewhere in the Bay Area, called the East Bay the “last frontier” for addressing the issue here.

Other cities and agencies included in the suit and settlement were Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and the Stege Sanitary District, which serves Kensington, El Cerrito and part of Richmond.

Comments

Submitted by Liz T (not verified) on Tue, Jul 29, 2014

All this effort will be for naught if plans to add new burdens to the system via major new developments around Alameda are not fully accounted for. What are those developers contributing to improving infrastructure?