Federal complaint filed against San Francisco for alleged Clean Water Act violations

May 7, 2024
The San Francisco violations include discharged untreated wastewater into surrounding water sources.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board had a civil complaint filed on their behalf in federal court against the City and County of San Francsico for alleged Clean Water Act violations spanning the last decade.

The suit was filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the EPA, and the Attorney General of California, on behalf of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, on May 1, 2024.

The complaint seeks financial penalties and improvements to fix San Francisco’s failures to operate its two combined sewer systems and three sewage treatment plants in compliance with the Clean Water Act and its permits.

According to a press release, on average each year since 2016, San Francisco has discharged more than 1.8 billion gallons of untreated sewage from its combined sewer systems into creeks, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This includes areas popular for wading, swimming, surfing, kayaking and fishing.

During heavy rains, when the sewage treatment plants are at maximum capacity, combined sewage is discharged from near-shore outfalls to creeks, the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean without receiving disinfection treatment.

San Francisco’s failure to take steps to minimize these discharges or provide the necessary treatment interferes with the state’s designated uses for these water bodies.

EPA has brought enforcement actions to require municipalities across the country to update their sewer systems and address similar Clean Water Act violations.

The State Water Board and nine regional boards administer and enforce the Clean Water Act in California. According to the press release, in 2023, the Water Boards took 260 wastewater enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act, with over $6 million in assessed penalties.

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