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SFPUC Responds to Baykeeper’s Intent to Take Legal Action

Alameda Post - a collage of SFPUC workers and the logo
Photo SFPUC / Instagram.
To the Editor:

Here’s some context about San Francisco’s combined sewer system and the environmental benefits it provides to the bay. Across the Bay Area, when it rains, urban storm runoff picks up trash and contaminants as it flows untreated into San Francisco Bay and other bodies of water.

San Francisco, however, doesn’t do that.

While other coastal cities in California have separate sewer and stormwater systems, most of San Francisco is served by a combined sewer system. We are the only coastal city in California with a combined system, although they are common in other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest and Northeast. This combined system provides greater environmental benefits because it captures and treats most stormwater to the same high standards that apply to wastewater from homes and businesses before releasing it to the bay or ocean. Other cities and counties in the Bay Area don’t treat their stormwater before allowing it to flow into the bay or ocean. San Francisco, on the other hand, is removing pollutants that other cities don’t.

San Francisco developed its wet-weather control facilities under EPA and Regional Water Board oversight.  The system handles most rainstorms well. Some extreme storms can stress the capacity of the system, requiring partially treated discharges through designated outfalls along the ocean or bay.

These discharges are authorized by our Environmental Protection Agency and Regional Water Board permits. The SFPUC’s extensive system of underground storage, transport, and treatment boxes minimizes the frequency and volume of these discharges.

When discharges do occur, they consist overwhelmingly of stormwater. The flows are conveyed through collection system infrastructure that provide treatment consisting of settling prior to discharge through the outfalls to remove dirt, grit and trash. The outfalls themselves are equipped with baffle and weir systems designed to catch floatable trash and solids, which are ultimately sent to one of our treatment plants after stormwater flows subside.

Cherry-picking select information without conveying the whole picture doesn’t benefit the environment, policy makers, or the public.

We’re a public utility with a strong track record of environmental stewardship. We’ve been keeping runoff pollutants from entering the bay for generations, and we’re leading the way on taking action to remove nutrients like nitrogen from discharges. (Nutrients in discharges are believed to be a contributing factor in the recent summertime algae blooms.) Our 10-year capital plan includes investing $1.2 billion in treatment technology and facilities for nutrient removal. We’ll stand behind our environmental track record anywhere, including in a court of law.

Nancy Hayden Crowley
Press Secretary, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

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