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San Francisco Bay Watch Dog Joins EPA in Legal Action Against Alameda

On January 28th, San Francisco Baykeeper field a complaint in federal district court to join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement action against the City of Alameda, the Stege Sanitary District (SSD), and other East Bay cities over illegal sewage spills.

On November 18, 2009, the EPA issued administrative orders requiring the City of Alameda and cities operating “satellite sewer systems” – Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Kensington, El Cerrito and Richmond – to address chronic sewage spills and to reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration that enters their collection system pipes. Satellite systems from these cities convey wastewater to a sewage treatment plant operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). The spills were aggravated by the recent spate of wet weather in the East Bay.

Baykeeper says that the federal district court granted their request on January 22, 2010 to represent the interests of East Bay residents in negotiations on how the cities’ sewage infrastructures will be overhauled.

Jason Flanders, Staff Attorney for Baykeeper explained:

The City of Alameda uses a sewage collection system that sends untreated sewage to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (“EBMUD”) wastwater treatment plant for treatment. (In fact, 6 cities and one sanitation district all do this too: Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Albany, Emeryville, and Stege Sanitary District.) When the EBMUD facility is overwhelmed during large rain events, it, in turn, sends a mixture of stormwater and untreated wastewater including sewage, to its “wet weather facilities” where the sewage only receives partial treatment before being discharged to the Bay. This is an illegal discharge under the Clean Water Act, and contains pollutants that are harmful to the Bay and Bay users.

The reason Alameda is held jointly accountable for EBMUD’s illegal discharge is because Alameda’s aging sewage collection system has cracks, breaks, and unauthorized inputs that take in large amounts of stormwater. (This is true of all of the satellite sewage cities, listed above.) When this stormwater mixes with sewage and wastewater discharges, the system is overwhelmed, not properly functioning, and results in EBMUD’s undertreated discharges.

Last year, at the March 17, 2009 Community Improvement Commission meeting, wherein Alameda City Council members sit as commissioners, then-Acting City Manager David Brandt recommended that the Commission borrow $3 million from the City Sewer Enterprise maintenance fund to help build the new Willie Stargell Avenue intersection just south of the Webster and Posey Tubes. Alameda City Council approved the loan. The intersection is nearly complete and will be open soon. Presumably at the time, Brandt was anticipating development at Alameda Point going forward under a plan similar to SunCal’s.

When Action Alameda News mentioned the sewer fund loan to Baykeepers’ Flanders, he wrote “You raise a good question as to whether Alameda is spending the money it needs to make the necessary repairs to its sewage collection system.”

City of Alameda officials did not respond by press time to e-mail requests for comment.

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