Oct 04, 2019

EPA Sends San Francisco Notice of Clean Water Act Violation

The U.S. EPA issued a Clean Water Act violation notice to San Francisco for failing to manage the city’s aging infrastructure.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The U.S. EPA has sent a notice that San Francisco is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. 

The agency claims San Francisco has neglected its responsibility to properly operate and maintain the city’s sewage collection and treatment facilities. This neglect has caused force main and pump station failures that have diverted a significant amount of raw and partially-treated sewage to flow across beaches and into the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. In other cases, sewage has reportedly flowed into the streets and entered people’s homes. 

“Historically, the city's data, which we also note are materially incomplete in numerous ways that likely masks the true nature and scope of certain violations, show it is discharging approximately 1.5 billion gal of combined sewage annually” according to an EPA press release. “Recent data show that the annual combined sewer discharges are closer to 2 billion gal.” 

This notice does not come as a surprise to the city, however. A month prior, President Donald Trump warned of a potential violation notice, criticizing the city’s homeless population and adding “we have tremendous things that we don’t have to discuss pouring into the ocean. You know there are needles, there are other things.” These comments were made after Trump had been visiting the west coast to raise money for his reelection campaign.

“The same Trump EPA that‘s dismantling environmental protections is now making false claims about San Francisco’s sewer system - a model of sustainability,” said California Sen. Scott Wiener in a tweet responding to the notice. 

Many of the city’s aging infrastructure issues are currently being addressed by the Sewer System Improvement Program, a multibillion dollar effort and one of the largest infrastructure projects of its kind, as reported by The Washington Post. According to Mayor London Breed, the city’s multibillion sewer system is one of the most effective in the country. As for Trump’s comments on the city’s homeless population, Breed tweeted about the city’s plans to add 1,000 shelter beds and to pass a $600 million affordable housing bond to create needed housing.

"President Trump’s sudden concern for California’s environment is ironic considering he is undercutting the state’s ambitious vehicle emission standards and climate change plans” Breed said.

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