Baykeeper sued the Town of Hillsborough and the neighborhood of Burlingame Hills in August 2008 for violations of the federal Clean Water Act after investigations done by Baykeeper staff and pro bono attorneys with Lawyers for Clean Water revealed that the sewage systems were poorly maintained and operated and frequently spilled sewage to streets and to nearby creeks that lead to the Bay.
Baykeeper's settlement agreements, reached last week and still subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California, contain action plans for Hillsborough and Burlingame Hills to curb their sewage spills by 2014.
Hillsborough and Burlingame Hills have agreed to improve their wastewater treatment systems to the point that they have fewer than five spills per year in each area, down from the current number of more than 20 incidents per year, says Sejal Choksi, program director with San Francisco Baykeeper.
As mitigation for past water quality violations that have harmed the Bay, Hillsborough agreed to contribute $50,000 to projects that help protect the San Francisco Bay and its watershed, including a program to provide low-cost loans for residents to replace failing sewer pipes.
Burlingame Hills will invest $15,000 in watershed protection projects, including programs to educate residents about how they can help reduce sewage spills.
Windsurfer in San Francisco Bay near Coyote Point (Photo by Tolka Rover)
These agreements are a crucial step toward fixing the San Mateo Peninsula's sewage spill problem and stopping illegal discharges into the Bay, Choksi says.
Hillsborough and Burlingame Hills operate satellite sewage collection systems that send sewage to the City of Burlingame for treatment.
Choksi says poor maintenance of the satellite systems contributes to problems downstream at the Burlingame plant, including illegal discharges into the shallow waters near Coyote Point, one of the more popular wind surfing spots in the South Bay.
In February 2008, Baykeeper discovered that the City of Burlingame had a high sewage spill rate, of more than 30 spills per 100 miles of sewer line, and was using an illegal discharge pipe at Coyote Point during large storms – a situation that raised concerns among the windsurfers.
In August 2008, Baykeeper reached a settlement with Burlingame to reduce sewage spills to the bay. Burlingame agreed to improve its sewage infrastructure over the next 10 years - stopping all spills during normal storm events, spending tens of millions of dollars to make collection system improvements and undertaking a study to identify capacity problems and eliminate near-shore discharges.
The city will also invest $250,000 to fund projects that will help restore the San Mateo County watershed.
Baykeeper's lawsuits against the City of Burlingame, Burlingame Hills and Hillsborough are part of the group's decade-long campaign to end sewage spills in the Bay Area.
The nonprofit has brought four other sewage lawsuits and numerous industrial stormwater lawsuits.
Enforcement of the California Industrial Stormwater General Permit is the responsiblity of the state, but Choksi says, "We've found the state doesn't have the resources to support enforcement against all violators. Sometimes the agencies pick the low hanging fruit, and that leaves lots of other violators out there for us to pursue."
The industries found discharging stormwater in violation of their permits are willing to settle, says Choksi, "because what we are asking is compliance with the law, and they know that if they don't comply they are still vulnerable to enforcement action from other groups or from the state."
San Francisco Baykeeper takes responsibility for contributing to the cleanliness of the waters bordering the nine Bay Area counties, from Sonoma County in the north down through San Mateo County in the south, an area that includes 7,000 square miles and the cities of San Francisco and San Jose.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.