The city of Oakland, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and six other East Bay cities have reached an agreement with federal environmental regulators to prevent sewage overflows and spills into the San Francisco Bay, officials said today.
The clean water agreement, which calls for updating aging sewer infrastructure, is in the form of a 22-year-long federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lodged today in U.S. District Court.
It resolves a lawsuit the EPA and the California State Water Resources Control Board filed against eight East Bay agencies in 2009 to prevent spills into the Bay and local overflows throughout the East Bay.
Oakland officials said they and the other parties involved in the matter worked cooperatively to reach an agreement that will protect creeks, parks, shorelines and public health in the East Bay.
In addition to Oakland and EBMUD, the parties involved in the agreement are the cities of Albany, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville and Piedmont, as well as the Stege Sanitary District, which covers Kensington and parts of El Cerrito.
The parties involved in the suit said that during periods of heavy rainfall, flows have often exceeded the capacity of EBMUD's sewage treatment plant, discharging partially treated sewage into the Bay.
They said that even during normal operations, thousands of miles of aging sewage pipes in Oakland and other cities clog due to grease, roots, and other obstructions, resulting in local overflows of raw sewage. Some of these pipes are more than a century old.
Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement, “Although the vehicle for these negotiations was a lawsuit, all parties worked cooperatively to reach our common goal of providing greater protections of the health and welfare of our environment and the citizens of the East Bay.”
Parker said, “This agreement does not simply increase repairs to our sewer infrastructure. It also creates jobs, makes Oakland a greener community and helps to secure environmental justice for East Bay residents.”
Oakland officials said that before the suit was filed in 2009, they had complied with all EPA regulatory enforcement actions and had begun the work to complete hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements the EPA and state water board ordered in the 1980s.
Since the suit was filed, Oakland officials said they, EBMUD, and the neighboring cities have worked together to fix leaky sewer pipes and build wet weather facilities to prevent heavy storms from causing raw sewage overflows into the Bay.
Oakland alone has spent about $300 million to improve its collections system and reduce flows, city officials said.
They said the joint efforts were successful in reducing discharges of sewage to the Bay, but EBMUD's three wet weather facilities were unable to meet current tougher standards for wastewater secondary treatment.
Under terms of the agreement, Oakland is expected to spend up to an additional $13 million each year on sewer infrastructure above the $52 million it is currently spending annually to repair and upgrade the city's sewer system.
Oakland officials said the agreement also includes payment of a one-time civil penalty of $850,000 to the EPA. All of the other defendants also are paying civil penalties, according to Oakland officials.
The work in Oakland will be funded by sewer service fee increases the City Council adopted in 2010, so the agreement's additional spending requirements will not cause budget deficits or service cuts in other areas, city officials said.
Under the terms of the consent decree, Oakland will be responsible for upgrading 13 miles of sewers per year and substantially increasing regular sewer inspection and maintenance.
The agreement also includes an investigation program to identify and disconnect potential direct storm water connections or other sources of major inflow during storms.