Government and the Environment

Somthing that all-too-seldom gets attention -- when it comes to water pollution, most of the worst private offenders were brought in line decades ago  (at least for point sources, like a particular factory;  agriculture and runoff are still issues in some areas).  Many or even most of the worst water pollution offenders in the US are actually municipal authorities, who dump raw sewage into open waters.  I remember that when I lived in Boston, there was this digusting spot in the bay where the sewer pipe ended.  They sort of fixed the problem ..  by making the pipe longer to dump further out into the bay.

Even in the Bay Area in these environmentally sensitized times, some egregious environmental practices remain in place, with little public scrutiny.

It's bad enough that there are cancer-causing chemicals in the bay. And Marin recently had a 500,000-gallon sewage leak into the body of water. But did you know that when it rains, the area's sewage treatment plants are designed to overflow into the bay?

The leaky pipes in drainage systems take in more than the system can handle. In last week's storms, Richmond loosed 890,000 gallons of untreated water into the Bay, about 10 percent of which"”or 8,900 gallons"”was pure, unadulterated sewage.

You mean government exempts itself from its own rules?  No way!

  • San Franscisco will no doubt be doing this from their recently renamed George W Bush sewage treatment plant.

    'Nuff said.

  • rxc

    This is because when they built these sewage systems 200 years ago, they used one pipe for storm drains AND sanitary drains. Now that we are more enlightened, and want to treat sewage instead of just dumping it into the rivers, it would cost a real fortune to re-build the sewers into two separate systems. Some cities have installed ENORMOUS collection tanks that can hold-up all of the rain from a large storm, and the enviros want more of this done. Unfortunately, it is expensive and requires someplace to put the collection tanks (often just huge underground caverns), and they are not always conveniently available. Also, the enviros will eventually push to treat even the storm drain water, on the basis that it washes the streets, and there MUST be something dangerous(for the children) on the streets that is being washed into the rivers, so until they get the storage tanks built, they will continue to overflow during hard rains.

  • dearieme

    In England it used to be that the local authority sewage works were the main polluters of rivers, because the same local authorities were in charge of policing polluters. The problem was largely fixed 20 years ago when the Conservatives privatised the water and sewage industries and set up a separate entity to police the pollution of waterways.

  • David W.

    10% of 890,000 is now 8,900? Too bad I can't use math like that on my tax bills!

  • Allen

    Funny to be reminded of this. I was just chatting with a friend about Fastracks here in Denver. The project looks to be double what they originally said it would cost (original cost $4.7b) and they're scrambling to find extra funds. My friend said that we should find the money because we need options. I pointed out that options are nice but we have limited amount of resources and need to prioritize them according to what will do the most good. This is an excellent example of what happens when we don't prioritize. We sink billions into things like light rail that get used by very few people. In the meantime the same money being plowed into those sort of things could be used to address more pressing issues. The issue of raw sewage being dumped into the bay is a good example of that.

  • In older cities, it might seem crazy but a raise in taxes to pay for a modern sewer/storm drain system may just improve their quality of life allot more than just using the smoke and mirrors to pretend the problem only happens when it "rains".

    The City of Buffalo has no storm drain system seperate from the main sewer system, so when it rains enough, a considerable amount of untreated sewage is released into the Niagara River by the Erie County Water authority. However in the newer suburbs, the sewer system is split and the towns are required to maintain and in some cases treat their own town's storm drainage. Yet the City and County both don't want to take the expense of building split system and modernizing the old sewer system for Buffalo. They instead want to ask the State or Federal government for the money, yet all they get is small sums to appease them until next year, usually just enough to help cover the costs of maintaining a rapidly deteriorating system.

    -- John O.

  • Bob B.

    Here in "green" Portland, Oregon the city has been dumping billion gallons of sewage a year into the Willamette River. In 2001 the EPA launched an inquiry claiming that the city was violating the Clean Water and the Safe Drinking Water acts, a claim that was angrily dismissed by the city as "politically inspired". Six weeks into the Obama administration, federal officials have dropped the inquiry. Note that even after the "Big Pipe" project - designed to capture sewage overflows during heavy rains - is completed in 2011, the city will still be dumping an estimated 240 million gallons of raw sewage a year into the local waterways.