First Flush Drains Pollution into the Bay

What comes to your mind when entering the bath after a long, busy day? Most likely you’ll be feeling clean and relaxed. However, have you ever thought about the contents of your bath water afterwards? After all, the oils, bacteria, and other grime on your body don’t magically disappear after they’ve been stripped off.

Similarly, rain flowing through streets appears to clean the landscape as it washes away trash and dirt. Unfortunately, the first significant rainfall of the year holds an often overlooked dirty not-so-secret. It’s called the first flush, and it’s not just trash and dirt that’s being removed from Bay Area streets. Motor oil, cigarette butts, pet waste, pesticides, and other pollutants are picked up by rainwater and enter storm drains, which flow into creeks and ultimately into San Francisco Bay, which acts as a bathtub for the region that drains into the ocean.

North Bay Fire’s Continued Destruction

This year, the first flush brings with it an even greater concern for pollutants into the local waterscape with the tragic and devastating North Bay firestorm in Sonoma and Napa Counties. In addition to homes and businesses, the fires destroyed vegetation that would have stored excess rainwater and filtered its contents through soil. This means that wastes such as household chemicals and heavy metals from burnt areas, which turn more toxic after being exposed to fire, can flow much more freely into local creeks and into the Bay, making the first flush that much more hazardous to wildlife and public health.

The good news is that North Bay, state, and federal officials have acknowledged this threat to regional water quality and are constructing and planning collection ponds to capture and filter debris-ridden water before it enters creeks. Nevertheless, with the additional burden coming from this tragedy, Bay Area residents should be extra vigilant at preventing trash and other pollution from ending up in the Bay and further poisoning wildlife and water quality.

How Can I Help?

Rain is nature’s way of cleansing the landscape, but first flush serves as a reminder that our urban areas act as nature’s drain and there is still a lot of work to be done to stop the flow of pollution into San Francisco Bay. We can start with simple actions such as not littering, moving cars from the sidewalk on street sweeping days, using reusable bags and bottles, and taking the pledge to prevent trash from entering the Bay.