Traffic flows along the western span of the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco from Yerba Buena Island on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

EPA alleges city dumped sewage into ocean, violating Clean Water Act

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday accused the city of San Francisco of violating the Clean Water Act by allegedly dumping untreated wastewater into oceans.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday accused the city of San Francisco of violating the Clean Water Act by allegedly dumping untreated wastewater into oceans.

In a letter to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly, Regional EPA Administrator Michael Stoker said the city is failing to operate and properly maintain its wastewater collection facilities and failing to comply with water quality standards, among other violations.

The letter alleged the city discharged some two billion gallons of untreated sewer water into the ocean annually.

“The failure to properly operate and maintain the city’s sewage collection and treatment facilities creates public health risks. For example, lack of proper operation and maintenance has caused force main and pump station failures that have diverted substantial volumes of raw and partially-treated sewage to flow across the beaches and into the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean,” Stoker wrote.

“There have been instances of sewage flowing into the streets and entering people’s homes. Moreover, the city’s data also show other pollutants of significant concern such as copper, zinc, lead, cyanide and ammonia that can threaten the water quality of the Bay and the ocean,” the letter said.

If the city doesn’t take immediate action to correct the allegations, the EPA said it could pursue injunctive relief or civil penalties.

In a statement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed responded to the letter, defending the city’s sewer system and calling the allegations inaccurate.

“The notice of violation issued today contained a series of mischaracterizations, inaccuracies and falsehoods, and is the latest example of the Trump administration’s attack on our city and our state,” she said.

“San Francisco has a combined sewer system, one of the best and most effective in the country, that ensures that all debris that flow into storm drains are filtered out at the city’s wastewater treatment plants. No debris flow out into the Bay or the Ocean. In fact, the EPA recently awarded San Francisco the largest, merit-based award it has under its competitive loan program for water infrastructure,” she said.

“President Trump’s sudden concern for California’s environment is ironic considering he is undercutting the state’s ambitious vehicle emission standards and climate change plans,” she said.

Breed added that the city is currently working with the EPA to replace aging infrastructure through the city’s Sewer System Improvement Program.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said, “The same Trump EPA that is dismantling environmental protections around the country is now making fraudulent claims about San Francisco’s combined sewer system—a system that is a national model of sustainability.

“The EPA has repeatedly signed off on San Francisco’s sewer system over the years, yet the EPA is now issuing misleading statements about it. This ‘Notice of Violation’ by Trump’s EPA is a fraudulent political attack on San Francisco by a collapsing Administration desperate to rile up its base,” he said.

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