From your backyard to the Bay, it’s time to cleanup!

In almost every city, trashy runoff flows directly into the Bay, untreated.

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!

 Thanks for all you do to help keep our Bay, coastline, and waterways, clean and healthy for all life. Stay tuned for opportunities to advocate for zero trash in your city.

Oakland Agrees to Fund More Trash Removal

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Save The Bay’s campaign to accelerate trash reduction has scored a major victory!

After a contentious month of budget hearings, the Oakland City Council approved a two-year budget at the end of June that includes significant new investments recommended by Save The Bay to keep trash off Oakland city streets and out of San Francisco Bay. Oakland funded two new cleanup crews to remove trash from illegal dumping sites and homeless encampments by adding $1.6 million to the budget, with another $150,000 for additional operations to clear stormwater-related trash from streets. The city also authorized installing full trash capture devices in storm drains through transportation and streetscape improvement projects funded by Measure KK. Voters approved that Oakland infrastructure bond endorsed by Save The Bay in 2016.

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.
  • Save The Bay is trusted by the news media and can generate good coverage of this issue – here is an excellent example.
  • Our technical expertise and good working relationship with the Regional Water Board staff positions us well as a credible voice on permit requirements and trash treatment options.
  • Even a small number of Save The Bay activists who show up to advocate with their local officials can have a big impact.

We’ll be working this summer and fall to help more cities keep trash out of the Bay.

Flooding Study Results Require Action

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.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report provides even more detail on how much climate change will affect specific Bay shoreline cities, and how soon.

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:

A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)
A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)

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.


This article was originally published in The Mercury News by Lisa Kreiger and Denis Cuff on 7/12/2017. 

Oakland targeted in bid to cut trash flow into SF Bay

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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.

Despite spending millions of dollars over the years on garbage cleanup, Oakland has the Bay Area’s worst record for limiting the rubbish that pollutes creeks, lakes and the bay, according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The flow of waste violates mandates set by the board to reduce storm drain litter this year by 70 percent compared with 2009, a goal that Oakland is far from meeting. If the city is still in violation on the July 1 deadline, it could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

“They have one of the worst problems per capita,” said Thomas Mumley, the assistant executive officer for the water quality board, which sent a warning letter to Oakland this month. “The problem isn’t Oakland. The problem is all the people who dump the trash in Oakland.”

Oakland’s public works committee, made up of four council members, met last week to discuss ways to address the issue. Mayor Libby Schaaf said recently it would cost $20 million to $25 million a year to add trash capture devices to the storm drain system and regulate illegal dumping enough to meet the 70 percent target.

“I don’t believe we’re going to meet that requirement by this July,” said councilman Dan Kalb, who chairs the public works committee and is president of Stop Waste, a countywide recycling program. “We agree, they are important goals and we have been making some progress over the years, but it’s just not enough.”

Oakland isn’t the only city struggling to comply with the regulations, which apply to the labyrinth of curbside drains, gutters, underground concrete channels, pipes and catch basins that take water off city streets and direct it toward the sea.

Last July, 26 of the 70 cities and other municipalities in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Solano counties fell short of the reduction target, which was then 60 percent.

Oakland had cut its output 44.6 percent by last year. Collectively, the Bay Area had achieved a 50 percent reduction compared with 2009 — the equivalent of a million gallons of trash.

The goals were set eight years ago after the water quality board required local agencies to measure the garbage flowing from storm drains. Regulators were concerned about the 2 million gallons of trash found bobbing in Bay Area waterways, about half of it plastic grocery bags, candy wrappers, lids, straws and chip bags.

For each city, compliance is calculated by measuring how much detritus local cleanup programs pull off the streets or out of the drains. More weight is given to the most effective measures, like installing hydrodynamic separators, which capture all garbage flowing down a drain. The amounts cleaned are subtracted from the 2009 baseline.

The crackdown is important, conservationists say, because the waste leaches toxins, flows into the bay and winds up in the ocean, where the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that are ingested by marine mammals, fish and birds.

It was an indifferent attitude about litter, experts say, that created the enormous floating garbage patch in the North Pacific, a stew that marine biologists consider an ecosystem catastrophe.

In Oakland, where 8,000 storm drain inlets dump into a myriad of creeks, channels and the Oakland Estuary, one of the trashiest waterways is Damon Slough near the Coliseum complex.

The muddy banks were strewn last week with aerosol cans, juice bags, hypodermic needles, straws, tennis balls, liquor bottles, candy wrappers and numerous plastic bags.

“All of the trash in here is from storm drains at the Coliseum or wind blown from the parking lot,” said David Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Bay, as he stood next to the foul-smelling slough. “There are five or six creeks that all empty into this area here. It is the pathway, the water column, and it circulates all over.”

The stepped-up mandate this year is likely to trip up at least as many cities and agencies as last year, including San Jose, Richmond, Vallejo, San Leandro and Berkeley.

San Francisco is exempt from the guidelines because, unlike other cities in the Bay Area, it funnels storm water runoff into its sewer system, which removes the trash before it is discharged.

But Oakland’s failure has gotten special attention because it has a larger deficit to make up than any other city, according to a compliance summary prepared by the control board. San Jose is a distant second.

“Oakland is the largest source of trash from a city that is not close to compliance,” Lewis said. “It is heavily urbanized, right next to the bay, and the city is not doing what it needs to do to address the problem.”

Oakland spends $6.5 million a year on street sweeping and $5.5 million regulating dumping. The city also bans businesses from using foam packaging and plastic shopping bags, but workers still can’t keep up with the litter on the streets, said Lesley Estes, the city’s storm water manager.

She said 12 hydrodynamic separators have been placed in storm drains around the city, but that the devices’ price tag of $400,000 to $1 million makes them too expensive to install throughout the system.

Oakland’s strategy, she said, is to place mesh pipe screens, which must be cleaned out more often, in all of the drains not covered by the separators. Some 200 screens have been installed during public works projects in high-use areas.

Estes, who believes Oakland can reach a 60 percent reduction this year, said she’ll have a clearer picture of the city’s progress when she analyzes data after the fiscal year that closes June 30. She plans to prepare a compliance report and present it to the water quality board by Sept. 30 in the hope that regulators give the city credit for, among other things, its foam and plastic bag bans.

No additional money is set aside for storm drain cleanup in the mayor’s proposed budget for 2017-19.

“Not all other cities are faced with the same degree of issues that Oakland faces,” Estes said, referring to high priorities like fighting crime and homelessness. “The staff’s commitment to this effort is wholehearted and gung-ho, but it’s a difficult problem, and we just need to figure out the best pathway.”

A path Estes would like to avoid is one followed by San Jose, which last June agreed to pay $100 million over the next decade to settle a lawsuit by the nonprofit group Baykeeper for failing to reduce sewage and trash in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

San Jose officials, who said they settled to avoid a lengthy court battle, agreed to clean 32 trash hot spots, including homeless encampments along Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River, at least once a year. According to regulators, there is a lot less trash emerging from San Jose since the settlement.

The storm drain proviso will only get tougher in July 2019, when Bay Area jurisdictions regulated by the water quality board will be obligated to cut garbage output 80 percent. The goal is zero waste by 2022.

The board’s Mumley said cities like Oakland could be given more time to meet the coming July 1 deadline, if they outline specific efforts to reduce trash.

“My preference would be to give them a chance to solve the problem,” he said, “but ultimately the solution has to be changing public behavior.”

 

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This article was originally published online in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 30, 2017. 

Getting to Zero Trash: Oakland’s Challenge and Our Opportunity

In almost every city, trashy runoff flows directly into the Bay, untreated.
In Oakland and in most Bay Area cities, trashy runoff flows from city streets directly into the Bay via a network of municipal storm drains.

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.

In 2015, Save The Bay fought hard to strengthen the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit (MRP) issued by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) to reduce the amount of trash found in stormwater discharges from 78 Bay Area governments and agencies. The MRP now requires all of them to achieve a 70 percent reduction from 2009 levels of stormwater-borne trash flowing into San Francisco Bay by July 1, 2017, an 80 percent reduction by July 1, 2019, and a full 100 percent trash load reduction – zero trash – by July 1, 2022.

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.

Now that the City of San Jose’s trash reduction shortfalls are being remedied under monitoring and enforcement by the court, the City of Oakland stands as the biggest violator of the permit’s requirements as measured by the total volume of stormwater-borne trash flowing into the Bay over and above target levels.

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.

How You Can Help

If you are an Oakland resident, please email your City Councilmember and write that you need them to:

  • 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.