The $700 million in San Francisco Public Utilities Commission funding comes from payer rates and will be used for improvements like expanding pipe capacities. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F Examiner)

SF announces $700M to expand sewer infrastructure, effort to boost flood prevention

City leaders on Tuesday announced joint efforts to curb flooding at various low points throughout San Francisco by mapping them and supporting residents in readying for stormy weather through a number of new programs.

Additionally, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission said it has earmarked some $700 million to invest in expanding sewer infrastructure over the next 15 years.

Ahead of rain expected this weekend, various department heads gathered at Chan Kajaal Park, located near one of The City’s most flood-prone intersections at 17th and Folsom streets, to announce a new strategy that focuses on working with residents and business owners around flood prevention.

“There is only so much we can do [in terms of] infrastructure improvement,” said SFPUC spokesperson Tyler Gamble, adding that in recent months, a working group comprised of various city departments conducted outreach to residents in flood-prone areas to identify more immediate relief efforts.

Recent natural catastrophes, such as devastating hurricanes that have ravaged municipalities around the country, contributed to The City’s shift in focus on preventative efforts, Gamble said.

“The first thing we did is identified and mapped out these low-lying areas so that residents and businesses know where [they] are so they can participate in the programs that we are offering,” SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly said Tuesday.

Those programs include educating residents about flood insurance, as well as training and equipping volunteers to clear storm drains of debris under SFPUC’s Adopt-A-Drain initiative. Already, the latter has garnered some 1,700 “drain adopters,” Kelly said.

The SFPUC is also offering a floodwater grant through which the agency reimburses property owners for improvements made independently to protect against flooding.

“We are trying to make it easier by identifying contractors, engineers and designers, and [giving] them a list so they understand what features we would approve,” Kelly said. “For low-income applicants, we are looking at trying to advance payments so they can get the work done.”

Last week, the SFPUC approved a $2 million increase in funding for the grant and has worked to streamline its grant application process, Kelly said.

“We had heard from residents that it was a cumbersome [application] process,” said Gamble. “They needed more direction for what they really could do — like wet proofing their homes or [installing] backflow preventers. We came up wtih list of projects they can do at home.”

Kelly called the “RainReady” strategy one of the “most comprehensive flood resilient strategies in the country.”
The SFPUC will dedicate a proposed $700 million of its budget to flooding work over the next 15 years under its Sewer System Improvement Program. The funding comes from payer rates and will be used on improvements such as expanding pipe capacities, Gamble said.

Kelly said less than 1 percent of The City is affected by flooding, and improvement will be focused on at-risk areas.

“During dry weather we treat about 70 million gallons a day, but during wet weather we go up to 700 to 800 million gallons a day,” he said. “The infrastructure is large enough to handle large storms, but our storms are getting larger than our system can handle.”

San Francisco has about 25,000 catch basins, or storm drains. Kelly said The City manages to clean about 5,000 annually, although the need is much higher — about half require cleaning as leaves and other debris tend to clog the drains.

Despite the proposed investment in sewer infrastructure, Supervisor Hillary Ronen — who has long heard complaints about flooding areas in her district — said, “We cannot engineer our way out of what has become extreme weather events throughout the United States.”

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said his department is providing flood barriers and sandbags. Residents and businesses are privy to 10 sandbags, which they can pick up from the Public Works operations yard at the intersection of Kansas and Marin streets, Mondays through Fridays.

While last year was particularly wet — San Francisco saw a total of 32.34 inches of rain from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, compared to 23 inches the year before — rain levels this year are expected to be closer to average, or about 21 inches, said Will Pi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Still, Public Works is gearing up for the rainy season.

“All our crews are out there trying to prune trees to make sure branches don’t fall on cars, that trees don’t fall and make sure the leaves won’t clog our catch basins,” said Nuru.

Bay Area News

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

The admissions process at the academically competitive Lowell High School is set to change this year due to coronavirus restritions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Lowell’s selective admissions process put on hold this year — and more changes may be in the works

School board votes unanimously to use normal student assignment lottery for competitive school

Diners sit outside Caffe Greco in North Beach on Monday, June 15, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF becomes first Bay Area County to move to least restrictive COVID-19 category

Change to ‘yellow’ will allow more indoor dining and fitness, reopening non-essential offices

City officials want to install more red light cameras but the process is costly and time consuming. (Shutterstock)
Transit officials push for more red light cameras

SFMTA says ‘capital crunch’ and dragging timelines make expanding the program cumbersome

Police release an image a cracked windshield on a Prius that Cesar Vargas allegedly tried to carjack. Vargas, who was shot by police a short time later, can be seen in videos jumping on the windshield and pushing a Muni passenger who disembarked from a bus. (Courtesy SFPD
SFPD releases videos of deadly police shooting

Cesar Vargas killed after reports of carjacking with knife

Organizers of the San Francisco International Arts Festival had planned to use parts of Fort Mason including the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery to host performances by about a dozen Bay Area arts groups. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Arts festival sues city over permit denial

Organizer says outdoor performances should be treated like demonstrations, religious gatherings

Most Read