SF Water Board puts trash in its place

By Amy Ricard, Communications and Policy Associate

Fish and wildlife may finally get some relief from pervasive trash pollution.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to approve historic and long-overdue requirements for cities to make significant, measurable reductions in trash flowing to the Bay.

This is great news for the Bay! Even the San Francisco Chronicle thinks so.

Under the new municipal regional permit, cities and other permittees must reduce trash getting into the Bay by 40 percent in the next four years, and achieve zero trash discharge from stormwater within 12 years.

Intense public interest and involvement and years of sustained advocacy have finally produced a permit approach that can begin to reduce Bay trash. In fact, 20 state and federal legislators, nearly 40 community organizations and environmental groups and thousands of Save The Bay supporters have joined us in advocating that trash must be reduced like mercury and other urban runoff pollutants.

What to do now? Save The Bay is urging the Water Board to work diligently to ensure full compliance with these groundbreaking regulations; and through the Clean Bay Project, we are working with cities to help them achieve these important trash reductions.

The other kind of Water Boarding

by Laura Reinhard, Policy Associate

While most Bay Area residents don’t lose sleep wondering what is going on at the San Francisco Regional Water Board, people in Vallejo (and elsewhere around the Bay) just might start. The Vallejo Times-Herald recently reported that the city’s Rindler Creek is one of many Bay Area creeks being considered for the EPA’s “303d” list of trash-impaired waterways. This “303d” designation has sparked backlash from municipalities and, on January 14, brought a showdown at the ol’ Water Board hearing room. I was glad to be there to witness some real leadership for the environment.

On one side: The Clean Water Act and the health of the Bay

On the other: The well-paid consultants who make their money off of studying trash pollution at city expense.

And the bone of contention is the possibility of the Water Board reporting 24 Bay tributaries and two sections of Bay shoreline to the EPA for being so full of trash as to violate the Clean Water Act,. This would require cities to clean up the trash and fix the problem. You will note, quite often the companies making lots of money studying a problem for cities are not the companies making money fixing the problem.

Bay Area cities are understandably concerned about budget woes. But it makes more sense to invest in solutions than superfluous studies of a well-documented problem. Inserts in storm drains that catch trash are one type of project that would keep trash out of our waterways.

In considering reporting these creeks and shorelines to the EPA, several Water Board members spoke out about the crisis of trash and plastic debris in the Bay. Board member Steve Moore, an engineer who has extensive experience with runoff and trash issues, spoke passionately about the need for action. He pointed out the opportunity to put Bay Area residents to work through overdue infrastructure investments that will also clean up the trash and polluted runoff choking our waterways.

The outcome of this showdown looks to be going the Bay’s way. An official vote won’t come until next month or later, but if the January 14 hearing was any indication, the score might be Bay: 1 Trash: 0

Learn more about Save The Bay’s Bay Trash Hot Spots