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City of Alameda Responds on Baykeeper, EPA and Sewer Status

We wrote earlier this week about Baykeeper of San Francisco joining an EPA action against the City of Alameda over recent sewer spills. We had invited the City of Alameda to respond before publication, but we had not received comment back before press time. Now we have.

Referring to the statements made by Baykeeper about Alameda’s potential liability for the sewer spill problem – EBMUD discharges partially treated sewage in certain heavy rain conditions, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant wrote back “The facts below [Baykeeper’s statements] are not totally correct as I understand it.”

Gallant had a City of Alameda Public Works employee follow up:

[Acronym alert!

RWQCB stands for Regional Water Quality Control Board
NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
I&I stands for Infiltration and Inflow]

There has been a re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act by the EPA since the 1990s when EBMUD, in cooperation with the 7 satellite agencies and tax payers, funded the millions of dollars needed to construct three wet weather facilities. At that time, the RWQCB NPDES permit for the east bay approved the wet weather facilities process, which was to discharge primary treated water, not raw sewage, during excessive rain events. Within the last couple of years the EPA has decided the wet weather facilities should have tertiary treatment, which EBMUD said was too expensive. So the current proposal is to require the satellite agencies to improve their individual collection systems and eliminate infiltration of rain water and inflow of ground water into the pipes.

There is a separate EPA Administrative Order for each of the 7 jurisdictions that use the EBMUD treatment plant. So sorting out responsibility to each of the agencies that share the same EBMUD main lines is challenging. No one argues that some of the pipes are old and a fully funded ongoing maintenance plan is a sound strategy. The 7 satellite agencies have worked cooperatively with the EPA and RWQCB staff to initiate a plan that will identify where there are excess flows due to settlement and ground water inflow and develop an asset management maintenance plan.

One of the facts that seems to continually be omitted is that rather than “passing the buck to future administrations,” the 7 satellite agencies have been aggressively improving their sewer infrastructure since the 1980s when an Infiltration and Inflow (I&I) study was conducted and goals were set to reduce the amount of groundwater inflow. I can only speak to Alameda’s success, but the City of Alameda, with funds from local sewer fees jump started with loans from the SWRCB, met and exceeded our goals in advance of the I&I deadline. The City of Alameda’s sewer fund has continued to grow and the City has budgeted an ongoing $2 to $3 million annual sewer improvement program each year.

There was a loan of approximately $3 million from the sewer fund to provide a matching contribution for the Stargell road project. That loan will be repaid within the next five years and there will be a fund balance to continue the current capital program during the life of the loan. Without the loan as matching funds, the City may have lost approximately $4 million in State funding as well as a bid that was 75% of the engineer’s estimate due to the current economic climate. The City tries to balance all the needs of the City, including road infrastructure, where like the sewer system, there is always a need for ongoing growth and maintenance.

In addition, the City of Alameda’s sewer lateral ordinance has been held as an example of one of the best ways to reduce I&I. Currently, EBMUD is proposing a sewer lateral ordinance be adopted by all the satellite agencies.

Anyone interested in historical records is free to contact the RWQCB, who maintains the annual public reports from each of the agencies in the west bay. As you may have noticed in the Baykeeper report, they did not say they sued the west bay communities, only that they have tried to “intervene” in the process described above. I think this demonstrates that both the EPA and RWQCB feel there is a positive momentum with the 7 satellite agencies in finding a solution to this re-interpretation of the Clean Water act. Everyone wants a clean bay.

If you have any further questions I can be reached at 749-[xxxx.]
Barbara Hawkins
City Engineer

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