ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION
“Small non-profit works to reduce massive sewage spills into San Francisco Bay.” By Paul Rogers. San Jose Mercury-News. January 23, 2012. Every year, winter rains like the recent storms that have soaked the Bay Area help fill reservoirs and perk up lawns. But they also carry an ugly downside, causing aging sewage systems to back up, overflow and malfunction, endangering human health and polluting San Francisco Bay. Last year, a staggering 17.5 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage spilled in the nine Bay Area counties — enough to fill 26 Olympic-size swimming pools — and 95 percent of it flowed to the bay, lakes or streams. But with little fanfare, a small nonprofit group is steadily turning the tide. Over the past five years, San Francisco Baykeeper, with a staff of eight people, has filed 10 lawsuits under the Clean Water Act, seeking to force dramatic reductions in sewage spills. The group has won every one, securing settlements that are forcing 20 cities from the East Bay to Silicon Valley to invest tens of millions of dollars replacing miles of cracked pipes, boosting inspections and cleaning up their operations. “We have the worst polluters on a path to success,” said Deb Self, executive director of the San Francisco-based group. “It’s a quality-of-life issue. There shouldn’t be areas where there is sewage in the streets and playgrounds and flowing into the bay. These are not conditions we should have in this country.” The group took advantage of a 2006 law passed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires every public agency running a sewer system in California to file monthly reports showing how many spills their systems suffered and how much was spilled. The reports are tallied up in a database and posted on the Internet. Baykeeper began ranking the roughly 100 cities in the Bay Area by their rate of spills. It hired lawyers and began suing them under the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s most powerful environmental laws — and one that gives regular citizens, rather than just government agencies, the authority to sue polluters.