Advocacy Groups Pressure Richmond To Fix Massive Sewage Spills
(Richmond, CA) July 15, 2005: at the conclusion of a year-long investigation, two Bay Area public advocacy groups announced their intent to sue the City of Richmond if it fails to take immediate steps to address a massive sewage problem. The groups have identified over 1,000 sewage spills in Richmond since 2000, resulting in one of the highest spill rates in California. Over the last three years, Richmond's sewage spills have ranged from 10,000 to more than 17 million gallons of raw sewage that have flowed through Richmond neighborhoods and into San Francisco Bay or channels leading to it.
"People are living in third world conditions here, and no one has done anything to fix this disgusting problem," says Henry Clark of the Richmond-based community group, West County Toxics Coalition.
The City's sewage collection system is made up of hundreds of miles of aging terra cotta sewer pipes that are cracked and broken or clogged with roots and grease as a result of poor maintenance. Backups throughout the system force raw sewage through the breaks in the pipes and out into residential streets and recreational areas like schools and parks. In addition to human waste, the sewage spills - which occur year-round - contain toxic chemicals and pollutants from industrial facilities, posing a serious public health threat to residents, as well as to the ecologically sensitive San Francisco Bay and its creeks.
"Our goal is to ensure that Richmond residents are protected from the public health dangers posed by raw sewage," Sejal Choksi, Director of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the water quality watchdog organization Baykeeper. "We are dedicated to working with the City to identify top priorities for fixing their failing sewage system."
In the past, the City has cited budget problems to excuse delayed system maintenance. However, Mayor Irma Anderson commented to the press on June 21st that the City is now in the black.
"People in Richmond already pay higher sewer rates than in many other Bay Area cities, and they shouldn't have raw sewage running down the streets," said Choksi. "The City needs to address basic public health issues as it looks to improve quality of life for its residents and economic conditions suitable to attract businesses." She also urges the City to review past expenditures and appropriately allocate 1999 wastewater bond funds earmarked for sewage collection upgrades, to apply for available state and federal funding, and to provide low-income assistance for private line maintenance.
Baykeeper and WCTC notified the City of Richmond today with a formal notice letter (available upon request) documenting violations at Richmond's municipal sewage treatment facilities and requesting that the City turn immediate attention to fixing the public health problem. In addition to repeated sewage system leaks and overflows, the environmental groups also identified illegal discharges of toxic chemicals from Richmond's poorly run treatment facility. The wastewater facilities of Richmond Municipal Sewer District, West County Wastewater District, and West County Agency were named in the notice letter, as well as Veolia Water, which manages the City's treatment facility. The City outsourced management of the plant to Veolia Water in 2002 and of the sewage collection system in 2004 in an attempt to bring Richmond into compliance with law.
There have been a number of sewage spills as well as illegal discharges of high levels of pesticides and other toxic pollutants since the company took over the systems, however. The environmental groups urge the City to accelerate the schedule for maintenance and upgrade of the sewage collection system and take further steps to improve operations at the treatment plant. Richmond could also channel waste to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District for better treatment.
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