Walnut Creek takes the lead

Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes before being discarded.

On Tuesday night, the city of Walnut Creek adopted one of the strongest plastic bag bans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Voting 4-1, the city council passed an ordinance that will ban plastic bags and establish a minimum charge of 10 cents for a paper bag. Bring your own bag and you will not be charged. Not only does this ban apply to all types of stores in the city, it also applies to restaurants. The Bay does not differentiate between a bag from a grocery store and one from a restaurant – by applying the ordinance broadly, Walnut Creek is stopping plastic bag litter at the source, before it becomes Bay trash.

Four other cities in Contra Costa County have passed bag bans, but Walnut Creek is the only one – so far – that covers restaurants. We are calling upon the rest of Contra Costa to follow in Walnut Creek’s footsteps and pass comprehensive bans. With over 60 plastic bag bans in the Bay Area, we are getting close to eliminating this wasteful product from our region and protecting our creeks and the Bay from plastic pollution. Plastic in our waterways is not just an eyesore – studies have shown that plastic absorbs pollutants from the water it’s floating in, becoming even more dangerous and toxic to wildlife as time goes on.

We won’t let the momentum stop here, so stay tuned for more news on bag bans in Contra Costa County. 

Drought: Rain fell, but where did the water go?

Rain fell, but where did it go?  Photo Credit: Brandon Doran
Rain fell, but where did it go?
Photo Credit: Brandon Doran

The past week or so brought much needed rain to Northern California. But where did all that water go? Unfortunately, here in the Bay area most of it ran out to the Bay through the storm drain system, carrying trash and pollution with it.

There is a disconnect between how we manage water for flood control, quality, and supply. The goal of flood control systems is to remove water from our roads and urban areas as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this water is carrying a significant amount of pollution with it, degrading water quality in local waterways and the Bay. We are also experiencing a drought, and yet we are allowing runoff from our city streets to flow through our storm drains and out to the Bay rather than putting that water to beneficial use.

Flooding

Before we urbanized the landscape of Northern California, rain water soaked into the ground where it fell, recharging groundwater. Now that the land is covered in impervious surfaces like asphalt and buildings, our cities have created a network of storm drains to carry water from our urban streets to nearby creeks that flow out to the Bay. However, flooding still occurs when trash, leaves and other debris clog storm drains, or when the local waterways become overwhelmed by the sudden and drastic increase in water flowing in from storm drains.

Pollution

Because of the risk of flooding, storm water policies have focused on removing water from city streets and urban areas as quickly as possible, which means water flows directly into the waterways without treatment. As a result, pollutants like heavy metals, oils, pet waste, and trash are carried by the storm water into our waterways. This is why Save The Bay has prioritized stopping trash pollution at the source, working with cities and counties throughout the Bay Area to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam. We have also turned our attention to cigarette butts which are commonly littered on streets and sidewalks near storm drains.

Beneficial Use

There are better ways to prevent our urban areas from flooding than sending all the water, and the pollutants picked up along the way, out to the Bay and ocean. We depend on the streams and rivers of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to deliver water to the entire state even though rain falls throughout the state. The state of California is facing both a drought and groundwater depletion; we should be thinking more comprehensively about water supply solutions.

As water simply soaks into soil, pollutants are filtered out. This clean water then soaks into our groundwater system, replenishing water that we remove through wells and pumps. Homes have gutter systems that remove rooftop water and direct it out of a single pipe. If this pipe drains onto an impervious surface like a sidewalk or driveway, the water will run into the storm drain. If the pipe drains onto dirt or grass, the water is soaked into the ground, replenishing groundwater. Better yet, this water can be captured in barrels to use for watering plants during dry days. On a larger scale, the same concepts can be used for larger buildings and structures, or larger pieces of land like city parks. Another option is to create more permeable space, including paving streets with porous asphalt, green roofs, and more open space like parks.

Luckily, California legislators and policy makers are currently working to address the many water related issues facing the state, and are taking a more comprehensive approach. For example, Senator Wolk’s water bond bill, SB 848, includes $500 million for storm water capture and reuse projects. These projects are essential to improving water quality and can increase water supply. We’ll have to wait and see what decision makers will agree upon to address the significant water issues facing the state, but one thing is for sure; doing nothing is no longer an option.

 

Wine country just became more sustainable

Sonoma County has banned plastic bags!

Sonoma County and its cities join 49 other Bay Area jurisdictions in banning plastic bags.
Sonoma County and its cities join 49 other Bay Area jurisdictions in banning plastic bags.

On Wednesday, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency voted to ban plastic bags throughout the county.  The ban will apply to every city except Santa Rosa, which opted out of the countywide ordinance.  Not to worry,  the council has pledged to promptly adopt their own ban which mirrors the rest of the county.  What this means is that flimsy, plastic carryout bags will be eliminated from every store in the county – a huge win for Sonoma County’s creeks and the Bay.

This ordinance has been 3 years in the making, so we are very excited to see the region step up its efforts to keep plastic trash out of the Bay.  Although several Sonoma County cities do not touch the Bay, many of their waterways flow into it, carrying trash and other pollution from our communities.  Every city in the Bay Area – with our without shorelines – has a responsibility to protect the Bay from pollution.

Congratulations to Sonoma County for joining 49 other jurisdictions in the Bay Area in kicking the bag habit!

Weekly roundup: January 10, 2014

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

7X7 1/4/14
The ultimate Sunday hike: The Albany bulb
Urban wasteland or artistic expression? Visit the Albany Waterfront Trail (aka the Albany Bulb) and decide for yourself. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a unique and eclectic place for exploration, contemplation and human observation. It’s also a great place to walk your dog and experience some of the most fabulous water-level views to be had in the Bay Area.
Read more>>

weekly roundup

San Francisco Chronicle 1/5/14
Appeals court upholds S.F. plastic bag ban as precedent
In the latest legal setback for plastic-bag makers, a state appeals court has issued a ruling upholding San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic bags as a precedent for future cases.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 1/6/14
Made up names doom San Jose ballot measure to overturn Styrofoam ban
The contentious drive to overturn San Jose’s ban on Styrofoam containers has failed after elections officials found more than half the signatures gathered to place the issue before voters were bogus — and many were just made up.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 1/7/14
Editorial: Polystyrene foam ban stands in San Jose. Yay!
It’s tempting to lose faith in democracy when it seems like money is the only thing that talks. Then something happens — like the failure of the sleazy attempt to repeal San Jose’s ban on polystyrene foam food containers — that restores some faith in the system.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 1/9/14
They’re back – the Bay’s herring hordes return
Sea lions, porpoises and tens of thousands of birds are jockeying for position with fishermen this week as the annual herring run splashes into San Francisco Bay, a spectacular marine wildlife showcase that conservationists say is one of the largest in North America.
Read more>>

The Almanac 1/7/14
Can we rise to the challenge of rising sea levels?
Imagine a darkened bedroom around midnight. You’re lying there in the silence waiting for sleep to come. From the direction of the closet comes a soft scuffling noise. Curious and maybe a bit alarmed, you sit up, but carefully; you don’t want to draw attention to your presence. Holding your breath, you wait, your head at a slight angle, the better to hear whatever it is.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 1/9/14
Six Flags mommy dolphin practices baby whistle
Dolphins are known for their exquisite communication skills, but a late-term, pregnant dolphin at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo may be one of the first discovered vocalizing to her unborn baby.
Bella, a 9-year-old bottlenose, caused a double-take among her trainers a few months ago when they discovered her alone in a pool vocalizing her “baby whistle” – an individual sound that every mother dolphin uses to call her calf immediately after birth.
Read more>>

Stormwater is the Largest Source of Bay Pollution

Storm drain clogged with trash and debris.
Storm drain clogged with trash and debris.
Photo Credit: Mike Dillon.

Storm drains prevent flooding by draining excess water out of our neighborhoods, streets, and highways and carrying the water through pipes and culverts to nearby creeks that lead to the Bay.

Unfortunately, a lot more than just clean rain water flows to the Bay through our storm drains.  Last week a clogged plastic sewer pipe in Sausalito caused more than 50,000 gallons of raw sewage to spill into San Francisco Bay.  The sewage ran across the sidewalk, into a gutter, and down a storm drain that leads to the Bay 40 feet away.

While incidents like this happen from time to time and generate coverage in the news, storm drains carry toxic pollutants and trash into the Bay literally every time water flows through them.

Contaminants

The recently released “Pulse of the Bay” report found chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, and flame retardants in San Francisco Bay at levels that could pose hazards to aquatic life.

Pollutants enter the Bay through a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, factories, and agriculture.  But according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, stormwater is now the largest source of surface water pollution to Bay area waters.

Much of this pollution comes from our streets.  Cars discharge harmful metal particles like lead, zinc, and copper, and leak more oil into the Bay each year than the Cosco Busan oil spill did in 2007. Even the streets themselves contribute directly to the pollution problem.  Asphalt is held together with “recycled” petroleum products and waste from refineries, byproducts that would otherwise require safe disposal.  These toxic substances and the sealants used to coat paved surfaces leach into our waterways over time.

Trash

At this year’s annual Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21st, volunteers got to see first-hand how trash enters the Bay through our storm drains and creeks.  First Flush, the first big rain of the season, washed trash from the streets right into the creeks and wetlands we were cleaning up.

Some streets and highways are so full of litter that storm drains become clogged with trash and other debris, resulting in flooding.  Caltrans spends $50 million each year picking up litter on the streets, and has invested more than $5 million in the last five years to improve drainage on Highway 101 and I-80.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers are some of the biggest offenders, which is why we’ve prioritized plastic bag and Styrofoam bans throughout the region over the past several years.  Recently we’ve turned our attention to the nearly 3 billion cigarette butts littered in the Bay area each year.  We’re investigating the best local policy options to address the largest single source of litter in the Bay area.  In the meantime, we’re also calling on tobacco companies to take responsibility for the toxic litter they produce.  Sign our petition to tell tobacco companies – Keep you butts out of our Bay!

Learn more about water pollutants and how you can help keep our Bay clean and healthy.