West Bay Sanitary sued over sewage spills | News | Almanac Online |


West Bay Sanitary sued over sewage spills


An environmental watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the West Bay Sanitary District and two Peninsula cities over violations of clean water laws. San Francisco Baykeeper, in a lawsuit filed Dec. 2 in U.S. District Court, contends that thousands of gallons of sewage overspills reached the San Francisco Bay over the past five years.

The Menlo Park-based West Bay Sanitary District has a rate of spills that's twice as high as the California average, said Deb Self, the executive director of Baykeeper.

San Carlos and Millbrae were also named in the lawsuit.

"It's federal law, it's not optional," Ms. Self said.

Vivian Housen, the interim director of the West Bay Sanitary District, said the problem is not as bad as the lawsuit purports, and that the district is "working proactively" to improve its aging network of pipes.

Baykeeper relies on a city's or district's own mandatory reporting of sewage overflows, usually caused by blockages or failed pipes, to compile evidence for its lawsuits.

"Particularly with the rain, it hits a clog -- tree roots or diapers -- and it backs up the drain, into the streets and into the Bay," said Ms. Self.

The organization goes after the worst offenders, filing suit in order to force better maintenance and upgrades to the sewer system, she told The Almanac.

"Every one of our lawsuits against a city to date has resulted in a settlement with an aggressive capital improvement program," she said.

Ms. Housen said that the information in Baykeeper's complaint isn't entirely accurate.

"We've found quite a few errors," she said.

As for West Bay having twice the average rate of spills, Ms. Housen said she's worked for a number of districts throughout California and that reporting standards are not as rigorous elsewhere.

"The San Francisco Bay region has a reputation for being the highest-reporting region in the state. The agencies are very proactive for reporting spills," she said. "So you're not comparing apples to apples. We really don't know what's going on elsewhere."

However, she acknowledged that West Bay's clay pipes are subject to failure, especially from tree root intrusions. The district has set up a meeting with Baykeeper to discuss its plans to make about $3 million a year in capital improvements.

"Many of the pipes are over 100 years old, and there's an accelerated program to replace them over the next five to 10 years," said Ms. Housen. "The district was taking action proactively before they filed the lawsuit."

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Like this comment
Posted by The Sewage Watch
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Ahh, sewage! The true bottom line. Let's hope the City of Menlo Park joins the fight to stop the Cargill development on the bay just north of Menlo Park's Bayfront Park. With 14,000 new houses and nearly 25,000 new residents, there will be winter, rainy months when we'll see sewage problems we can't even imagine now. West Bay has opposed this development along with every major environmental group in the entire Bay Area.

Menlo Park residents should stop worrying about traffic congestion, 3 story buildings downtown and the "village character" of El Camino Real and look to the town north of us that wants to create a new city on the bay.

Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I am amazed no one seems "Interested" in this issue. Baykeepers proposes to fine the residents of Menlo Park over 10 million dollars. If they succeed every resident of San Carlos, Millbrae and Menlo Park will have to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Baykeepers is the biggest con imaginable. Their eleven member board consist of not one, not two, not three, BUT SIX LAWYERS. They make their living by suing public agencies....

Like this comment
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 23, 2009 at 8:27 am

It is my understanding that the sanitary district in Menlo Park is understaffed by a half dozen or so workers and is in heated labor(Union)
bargaining negotiations that are not going well. I have a friend that works there and he says that his fellow workers work very hard for the communities they serve and feel like the district is dragging it's feet on hiring and other issues. He also said there were some major issues with the old Manager Clayton and that is why he no longer is there. Maybe somebody should ask some questions of the people that run the show over there?

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