Aug 2 2014

EPA Sewer Suit Consent Decree and Sewer Plan

Piedmont’s much belabored efforts and those by other public entities to meet legal obligations to reduce sewage inflow and spills into San Francisco Bay has resulted in a settlement agreement.  

Weeks prior to the settlement, the City Council had considered whether or not to place an additional tax before the voters for approximately $1 million derived from an increased Real Property Transfer Tax. When the Council learned of significant unexpected funds garnered from existing Real Property Transfer Taxes, they decided it was not appropriate to ask voters for more money.

The EPA law suit and overstated sewer costs were used as the impetus to ask Piedmont voters to increase taxes in 2012.

 In February 2012, the City Council asked Piedmont voters to double their already high sewer property tax to gain $11 million to increase the  Sewer Fund.  When citizens calculated the City’s sewer cost numbers and discovered large overstatement of costs through miscalculations and unsubstantiated EPA threats, Piedmont voters rejected the heavily endorsed 2012 Sewer Tax Measure.

Questions remain on the large differential from $11 million to the now $1 million to accomplish the same amount of sewer replacement work.  The city has recently stated costs were miscalculated.

Sewer Fund expenditure records were previously not kept in a manner to verify proper use of the Fund.

The City now states that the current funds generated by the ongoing Sewer Tax will allow rehabilitation to proceed in a timely and cost-effective manner without additional tax revenues.  

There have been no statements by the City on the long term impact of sewer rehabilitation on the sewer tax amount.  Will the sewer tax be reduced once sewer lines are updated and operating properly? 

The consent decree imposes civil penalties on EBMUD and seven communities totaling $1.56 million to be paid to the US EPA and the California Water Quality Control Board (CWQCB). The civil penalties to be paid to the US EPA are identical to the penalties due to CWQCB except that Oakland is penalized $850,000 by US EPA and EBMUD is penalized $170,800 by US EPA and $30,800 by CWQCB.  Piedmont’s penalties are approximately $20,500 to CWQCB and the same amount to US EPA for a total penalty of approximately $41,000. 

The Council’s consideration of the Consent Decree and Piedmont’s Sewer System Management Plan revisions are on the August 4 Council meeting agenda. There are three staff reports related to Piedmont’s sewer system.

8/4/14 – Consideration of a Revised Sewer System Management Plan (SSMP) Pursuant to the Consent Decree and the State Sewer Audit of June 26, 2014

The  7:30 p.m. meeting in the Council Chambers will be recorded and broadcast.


EPA press release of 7/28/2014 follows:

Historic Clean Water Act settlement will prevent millions of gallons of sewage discharges into San Francisco Bay

Seven East Bay communities and municipal utility district to repair systems and pay civil penalties

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a Clean Water Act settlement requiring the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and seven East Bay communities to conduct extensive system repairs aimed at eliminating millions of gallons of sewage discharges into San Francisco Bay. Under today’s agreement, EBMUD and the communities will assess and upgrade their 1,500 mile-long sewer system infrastructure over a 21-year period. 

The work is expected to cost approximately $1.5 billion. The entities will pay civil penalties of $1.5 million for past sewage discharges that violated federal environmental law.

Since 2009, EPA, state and local regulators and environmental groups have worked to reduce sewage discharges from East Bay communities. During that period, interim actions required EBMUD and the East Bay communities to improve their sewer maintenance practices and gather information to identify priorities for investment. 

The San Francisco Bay covers 1,600 square miles and is the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas, a host for millions of migratory birds and a hub of commerce and recreation for more than 7 million Bay Area residents. 

Unfortunately, the Bay is under threat from many sources of pollution, including crumbling wastewater infrastructure that allows sewage to escape from the system. During rainstorms, in particular, older sewer systems can be overwhelmed, releasing rivers of sewage before being fully treated.

In addition to polluting waterways, raw and partially treated sewage can spread disease-causing organisms, metals, and nutrients that threaten public health. Sewage can also deplete oxygen in the bay, threatening fish, seals and other wildlife.

“For many years, the health of San Francisco Bay has been imperiled by ongoing pollution, including enormous discharges of raw and partially treated sewage from communities in the East Bay,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Many of these discharges are the result of aging, deteriorated sewer infrastructure that will be fixed under the EPA order.”

Today’s settlement is the result of a Clean Water Act enforcement action brought by the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice, State Water Resources Control Board, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board, San Francisco Baykeeper and Our Children’s Earth Foundation.

“This settlement will result in major reductions of sewage discharges into the San Francisco Bay,” said W. Benjamin Fisherow, Chief of Environmental Enforcement in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These improvements will help reach our goal of eliminating pollution in the neighborhoods in these cities and in the Bay so that citizens may rest assured that they reside in a safe, clean environment.” 

The seven East Bay communities in the EBMUD settlement are:

City of Alameda
City of Albany
City of Berkeley
City of Emeryville
City of Oakland
City of Piedmont
Stege Sanitary District (serving El Cerrito, Kensington, and a portion of Richmond) 

“The public has been required to repair their own sewer laterals for over two years now, so it is past time that the local agencies aggressively repair their sewer systems,” said Bruce Wolfe, Executive Officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board. “This settlement spells out how the agencies will work with the public over the next 21 years to do just that and protect the Bay.”

“Baykeeper will be watching the progress of these repairs closely to ensure that pollution of San Francisco Bay is reduced and eventually eliminated, and we will take action if the repairs fall short,” said Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self. 

On an annual basis, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage are discharged directly to San Francisco Bay. Also, as much as 600,000 gallons of raw sewage from community sewer systems is first discharged onto streets and other public areas—through outlets such as manhole covers—before it drains to the Bay.

As part of the agreement, EBMUD and the seven communities will:

repair and rehabilitate old and cracked sewer pipes;
regularly clean and inspect sewer pipes to prevent overflows of raw sewage; 
identify and eliminate illegal sewer connections;
continue to enforce private sewer lateral ordinances; and
ensure proactive renewal of existing sanitary sewer infrastructure.

EBMUD will also immediately begin work to offset the environmental harm caused by the sewage discharges, which are expected to continue until these sewer upgrades are completed, by capturing and treating urban runoff and contaminated water that currently flows to the Bay untreated during dry weather.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives.

The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. 

Read the settlement at:

Learn more about the settlement and earlier EPA wastewater enforcement in the East Bay at: 

EPA is working to restore San Francisco Bay, learn more at: 

Learn more about EPA’s national wastewater enforcement initiative at:

Contact Information: Suzanne Skadowski, 415-972-3165 (d) / 415-265-2863 (c),

Excerpts from the decree follow:

“11. No later than 30 Days after the Effective Date of this Consent Decree, each Defendant identified below shall pay to the Water Boards the sum appearing next to its name, as a civil penalty, together with interest accruing from the date on which the Consent Decree is lodged with the Court, at the rate specified in 28 U.S.C. § 1961 as of the date of lodging:

City of Piedmont $20,519 “

Following is Piedmont’s  July 29 press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California State Water Resources Board (State Water Board), the Regional Water Quality Control Board (San Francisco Bay Region), San Francisco Bay Keeper, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation have reached an agreement with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and the seven agencies whose sewage is treated by EBMUD (the Cities of Albany, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Piedmont and Stege Sanitary District) that requires EBMUD and each of these agencies to continue updating its sewer infrastructure to help protect the San Francisco Bay.

The agreement, in the form of a Consent Decree, resolves a lawsuit filed in 2009 to prevent sewage spills into the Bay and local overflows throughout the East Bay region. All parties worked extensively to reach this agreement.

“Based upon previous agreements with the State of California, the City of Piedmont has worked diligently to upgrade its aging sewer infrastructure. Piedmont will continue to update the remainder of the system which will not only comply with the Consent Decree, but reduce costly sewer repairs, and help protect the Bay. It is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Margaret Fujioka.

“The City of Piedmont has already replaced 64% of its sewer system,” said City Administrator Paul Benoit. “We will continue to improve our system to do our part to be a good steward of the bay.”

This matter has been scheduled for the August 4, 2014 regular City Council meeting. Public Works Director Chester Nakahara and Deputy City Engineer Mark Obergfell will update the Council and the public.”

To learn more about the Piedmont Sewer Tax, go to the following links:!OpenDocument

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