Distressing images of birds trapped in plastic debris and trash fouling beaches have sadly become common news stories. Events like International Coastal Clean Up Day (Saturday, September 16) and National Estuaries Week (September 16-23), bring much-needed attention to the cleanliness of our Bay, coastline, and waterways. But, often overlooked and not often discussed, is where the vast majority of this trash begins its journey to the Bay. When we look for answers we need to look further inland to one of the greatest sources of Bay trash… our city streets.
Trash is a daily and persistent threat to the health of our communities and neighborhoods. Illegal dumping creates chronic blight in many of our region’s neighborhoods, and city departments are struggling to respond in a timely manner. Homeless encampments lack access to trash bins, resulting in unsanitary and often dangerous living conditions. Trash is deliberately thrown on the ground and accidentally blows out of cars, garbage trucks, and trash bins.
The sources of trash are numerous, but the Bay is often the ultimate destination. Our streets are connected to the Bay through our storm drain system. In most places in the Bay Area, the grates you see next to the curb allow water and pollution to flow freely through a system of pipes that empty into creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Since stormwater does not flow to a treatment plant, all of the trash flowing through this system ultimately ends up in the environment.
Save The Bay has been working for almost a decade to keep trash out of the Bay, including advocating for regulations that require zero trash in city storm drains by 2022. Since most trash starts in our cities, our city leaders and local agencies must play a role in the solution.
The road to zero trash in the Bay is a tough one, but we are already seeing the positive impacts of our advocacy. In July, Save The Bay partnered with Oakland Community Organizations to advocate for additional funding in the city budget to prevent and respond to illegal dumping, a chronic problem that primarily impacts some of Oakland’s most underserved areas. Following pressure from Save The Bay, local and regional organizations, and the community, the city council adopted a budget that not only includes an additional $150,000 to address illegal dumping but also $1.6 million to place port-a-potties and clean trash from homeless encampments. The city also committed to installing trash screens in storm drains as a part of transportation projects.
This victory is only the beginning for our Zero Trash campaign. Like Oakland, cities and counties throughout the Bay Area need to secure additional funding to keep trash out of our neighborhoods and the Bay. Save The Bay is committed to advocating throughout the region to make the 2022 zero trash requirement a reality, and we hope you’ll join us by making a personal promise to reduce your trash footprint:
Four Simple Ways Your Can Reduce Your Trash Footprint!
Reduce. Avoid single disposable items like take-out cutlery and food containers.
Reuse: Carry a reusable shopping bag and coffee mug (and get a discount!).
Recycle: Recycle everything you can and dispose of your trash properly (remember to tie down bin lids to stop animals getting in!)
The City Council was poised to add another $350,000 for one-time costs to onboard the new cleanup crews, but deferred consideration until later this year because of a procedural hurdle. Now the challenge will be to implement these measures quickly and remove street trash that will otherwise end up in creeks and the Bay, especially as rains return this autumn.
For Oakland to demonstrate its trash reduction schedule alignment with the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s requirement, the city will have to hire and deploy the new clean-up crews, and document how much more trash they are removing. The city also needs to specify how many trash capture devices will be installed in high-trash generating areas and how soon. In September, Oakland will have to report to the Water Board whether it is close to achieving the goal of 70 percent reduction in trash below 2009 levels, or face enforcement action that could include penalties. We’ll be assessing that report along with other Bay Area cities.
How did we make trash cleanup a bigger priority in Oakland? Our community allies provided crucial support for inclusion of these trash reduction measures in the budget, especially Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), SEIU Local 1021, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). These groups have been working for years to reduce blight, improve public health, and increase quality of life for residents and working in Oakland neighborhoods.
With broad backing, our recommendations ultimately were incorporated into both the Oakland City Council President’s Budget supported by Mayor Schaaf – backed by Councilmembers Reid, Guillen, Gibson McElhaney, Campbell Washington, and Kalb – and the People’s Budget backed by Councilmembers Brooks, Kaplan, and Gallo.
This outpouring of support and the council’s positive response show again that Bay Area residents love San Francisco Bay, and want cities to make the Bay clean and healthy for everyone who lives here.
While each city’s process and politics are different, we learned a lot from Oakland that will guide our efforts with other cities that are not meeting the regional stormwater permit limits on trash flowing to the Bay:
Local alliances are crucial for effective grassroots pressure and direct lobbying, especially when we team with partners from beyond the traditional environmental realm.
When heavy rains returned to California last winter after an extensive drought, some Bay Area cities experienced flooding for the first time in many years. Now, a new study shows that kind of flooding will become chronic in many Bay Area locations in the decades to come.
As early as 2035, neighborhoods all around the Bay Area–on Bay Farm Island, Alameda, Redwood Shores, Sunnyvale, Alviso, Corte Madera, and Larkspur– would experience flooding 26 times per year or more, and that’s with moderate sea level rise. By 2060, the number of affected neighborhoods grows to include Oakland, Milpitas, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and others along the corridor between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. If the sea level rises faster, that frequency of flooding will occur sooner. Read the full report at http://bit.ly/2vacc5j.
The report raises another problem. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections. Those maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.
Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions. Just ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek in San Jose who were flooded out a few months ago.
The State of California and its agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, should be aggressively reducing risks to people and property from climate impacts – that has been explicit in the State’s climate adaptation strategy since 2009. Pressing FEMA for updated maps should be high on the priority list.
Here’s a report on the UCS study in the San Jose Mercury News, which quotes Save The Bay:
Chronic flooding from rising seas could plague many Bay Area waterfront communities such as East Palo Alto, Alameda and San Mateo within four decades, a nonprofit science group said in a report released Wednesday.
While other studies have predicted inundation of coastal cities, this new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists is the first to put dates on when towns that ring the San Francisco Bay would regularly experience chronic flooding.
Rather than slam shoreline communities with epic floods every few years, rising sea levels threatens to flood streets, yards, parks, homes and businesses in low-lying areas several times a year, the scientists said.
“Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.
Airports and low-income housing in low areas are particularly vulnerable, the study said.
While airports can draw on business income to pay for defenses against rising seas, many poorer neighborhoods are hard pressed to afford bigger seawalls or levees or to move people out of flood-prone areas, said Kristy Dahl, a UCS climate scientist and co-author of the report.
She said the report underscores the need for federal policies to help local communities.
“We shouldn’t have some communities left behind simply because they don’t have the resources of their neighbors,” Dahl said in an Oakland press conference to discuss the study. “A large number of these communities don’t have the resources they truly need to adapt.”
Last year, the federal government announced its first grant to buy and relocate a small town — Isle de Jean Charles, La. — for $48 million after concluding it was not worth trying to save the community in place.
The Union for Concerned Scientists study assessed three scenarios — low, intermediate and high sea-level rise — by the years 2060 and 2100, depending on the pace of emissions and melting rates of polar ice. An interactive series of maps show when inundated communities may reach tipping point, with at least 10 percent of usable land flooded at least 26 times per year.
The study found that:
By 2060, in the high sea level rise scenario, parts of many Bay Area communities would face flooding 26 times or more per year, or every other week. Communities with affected neighborhoods include Alameda, Oakland, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, San Mateo, Burlingame, San Francisco, Corte Madera and Larkspur.
By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, chronic flooding would affect public infrastructure such as San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Quentin State Prison, Moffett Federal Airfield and the Bay Bridge.
By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, two Bay Area communities would see more than 10 percent of their land chronically flooded: Alameda and San Mateo.
By 2100, in the high sea level rise scenario, more than half of Alameda, about 11 percent of South San Francisco and about 14 percent of Oakland’s land area would be chronically flooded.
“Imagine what it would be like to have your driveway and backyard flooded every every other week on average,” Dahl said, “And you can’t let your kids play in the back yard because it’s flooded.”
The “low scenario” assumes a San Francisco Bay water level rise of around 2 feet by 2100, a carbon emissions decline, and global warming limited to less than two degrees Celsius — in line with the primary goal of the Paris Agreement.
The “intermediate scenario” projects a four-foot water level rise and carbon emissions peaking around mid-century and about four feet of sea level rise globally. In the high scenario, emissions rise through the end of the century and ice melts faster, causing 6.5 feet of sea level rise.
The group applauded efforts by cities such as San Francisco and Foster City, which already have begun planning where and how to build seawalls and levees. Other regions — such as the cities of Alameda, Hayward and Oakland and Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties — are close behind, identifying potential strategies.
Welcoming the report, David Lewis of the Oakland-based nonprofit Save The Bay said it underscored the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update Bay Area flood maps to reflect new projections. Those flood maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.
He urged the state to press FEMA to update the maps. Congress also must be prodded to provide funding for the updates, he added.
“If maps don’t incorporate projections for sea level rise — and for increased frequency of flooding from extreme storms independent of sea level rise — then communities have a false sense of security, and property values, as well as public and private planning and development decisions, don’t accurately reflect risks,” said Lewis.
“Ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek,” which flooded last winter, he said.
A deluge of trash is flowing through Oakland’s storm drains and depositing so much litter in San Francisco Bay that regulators are threatening to levy fines if the city doesn’t do something to tidy up.
Putting an end to the pollution of San Francisco Bay by stormwater-borne trash that harms our wildlife, spoils our shores, and further damages our oceans has long been a top priority for Save The Bay and our supporters.
To help prepare these governments and agencies to meet their trash reduction requirements, the Water Board asked them to demonstrate compliance with a July 1, 2016 target reduction of 60 percent, and as we reported recently, the results showed fully one-third of them had fallen short of this goal, some dramatically.
But the Water Board isn’t the only entity tracking the amount of trash flowing into the Bay. The City of San Jose, the largest covered by the permit, settled a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by San Francisco Baykeeper by entering into a consent decree requiring that it undertake a long list of measures to ensure that the permit’s trash reduction goals are met. The estimated cost of this court-enforced settlement is an additional $100 million over ten years (inclusive of stormwater trash reduction costs, costs of compliance monitoring, and costs of mitigation projects in place of civil penalties), plus $425,000 in plaintiff’s legal fees.
Reducing Oakland’s Trash Load: Shortfalls and Solutions for 2017
As of July 2016, Oakland had cut its trash load by only 45 percent, meaning nearly 25,000 gallons more trash were flowing from its streets into the Bay than July 2017’s 70 percent reduction requirement will allow.
The risks to the City of Oakland for failing to remedy this shortfall are substantial. In particular, a lawsuit to enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act could end up costing the City of Oakland millions of dollars per year and requiring implementation of compliance measures that maximize stormwater trash reduction by placement of multiple trash capture devices in the ground while minimizing trash reduction strategies that would improve Oakland residents’ quality of life. These include enforcement of illegal dumping laws and faster pickup of dumped refuse, increased frequency of street sweeping, reducing the numbers of homeless people living in street encampments by providing them with permanent housing, and enhanced urban greening.
The good news is that City of Oakland staff has now submitted to the Water Board the outline of a multi-benefit trash reduction plan that could achieve July 2017’s 70 percent reduction requirement, but only if it is fleshed out in more detail, if it wins Water Board staff approval, and if it is fully funded for implementation.
This outline has as its largest element a reduction in “Direct Discharge,” the category of trash that flows into the Bay from homeless encampments and illegal dumping. Oakland’s plan also includes more effective use of street sweeping, expansion of the City’s plastic bag ban, deployment of green infrastructure, and greater use of storm drain trash capture devices.
Moving quickly to complete, fully fund, and implement this plan will enhance the quality of life for Oakland’s diverse communities, reduce the City’s exposure to enforcement action by the Water Board or in the courts, and model for the entire region a multi-benefit approach that takes big steps toward achieving a greener city and a cleaner Bay. The fact is that if Oakland can do it, every Bay Area government and agency can do it.
Achieving Zero Trash Compliance: 2018-2022
To maximize its protection against potential liability, the City of Oakland must also act immediately to craft a credible plan that will meet the requirement for 100 percent trash load reduction – zero trash – by 2022.
This plan should include all currently accepted practices considered effective for reducing trash, and should be integrated into an expanded multi-benefit strategy designed to address pressing issues of neighborhood blight and homelessness, sanitation and public health, and lack of urban greening, as well as stormwater pollution.
In particular, given that Oakland will soon be adopting a biennial budget that extends all the way through June 2019, it is critical that the city develop and implement a plan and a budget for trash reduction improvements that will achieve the 80 percent reduction required by the MRP as of July 2019. At a minimum, any such plan will require greater use of both large and small trash capture devices than envisioned in the existing outline.
The additional costs of a fully phased-in, multi-benefit plan sufficient to reach the zero trash goal by 2022 have not yet been calculated by city staff, but we know that if the city does not pursue such a plan and is ordered instead to rely on storm sewer upgrades alone to meet its requirements, Oakland will miss opportunities to leverage expenditures in other critical program areas to achieve its mandated stormwater trash reductions.
While Oakland must exert some fiscal effort to meet even the costs of an incremental, multi-benefit plan that takes advantage of synergies with expenditures necessary to provide other key municipal services, Save The Bay is also committed to pursuing new funding sources that will help underwrite zero trash implementation.
In particular, Save The Bay is working hard to pass SB 231 (Hertzberg), which would clarify the definition that enables agency charges for sewer services to include charges associated with the stormwater sewer system.
Support a greener city and a cleaner Bay in the city budget by fully funding a detailed, multi-benefit program that will meet the Water Board’s 2017 and 2018 stormwater trash reduction requirements.
Ensure city staff sets forth a comprehensive plan now to meet the Water Board’s 2022 zero trash goal.
If you are not an Oakland resident, please sign our petition to Oakland City Council and let them know “The Whole Bay Is Watching” and wants to see Oakland lead the way to a clean and healthy Bay by achieving its 2017 and 2018 stormwater trash reduction requirements and laying out a plan to get to zero trash by 2022.