California’s deadly storms have destroyed piers, flooded communities, and have now sent millions of gallons of raw sewage into the San Francisco Bay.
Dozens of incidents have occurred across Northern California where the wastewater plumbing system became overwhelmed, releasing harmful chemicals like pharmaceuticals along with human waste into rivers feeding the San Francisco Bay and the ocean, the Mercury News reported.
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“If you touch flood waters, you want to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to make sure that you don’t get yourself exposed,” said Eileen White, executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Flooded waters contain pathogens.”
More than 14 million gallons of sewage was released in the region between Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, an amount equal to 21 Olympic-sized swimming pools. A Jan. 4 storm released another 8 million gallons, White said.
A refinery in the area that has a history of environmental disasters released more than 6 million gallons of wastewater on Jan. 4, according to state records.
Martinez Refinery Company sent thick black smoke flaring into the atmosphere in 2010 and 2015, then a hazardous powder in November 2022. It also has a history of environmental code violations that led the nation in the 1990s, Wikipedia reported.
The discharge of partially treated “process water” and stormwater was necessary to avoid damage to the refinery, the company reported.
Smaller creeks were inundated with sewage as well. A manhole flooded in Redwood City, sending wastewater into Borel Creek at 150 gallons per minute, while 8 miles away, a similar amount poured into a storm drain that leads to Polhemus Creek. Then in Oakland, three overflowing manholes resulted in 25,000 gallons spilling into Lake Merritt.
South of San Francisco, 35,950 gallons of waste was released into the ocean bordering Daily City while upward of 75,000 gallons in neighboring beach communities were inundated with water when their waste plumbing systems failed.
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In all, 15 sewage disasters occurred in a dozen cities, the Mercury News reported. The only solution is upgrades to aging infrastructure, experts say.
“Our old infrastructure is just not going to be up to snuff,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh of the San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental nonprofit organization, to the Mercury News. “It’s not going to be able to handle these larger storm events, year upon year. So we really need to be thinking about the future.”
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