Tough restrictions passed on storm water trash

By Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

San Francisco Bay officials have approved an ambitious plan to force more than 70 Bay Area cities to drastically reduce the amount of trash that flows from their storm drains into the bay.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, after hearing more than four hours of testimony from environmental groups and local municipalities, voted 5-1 Wednesday to require a 40 percent reduction in storm water trash by July, 2014.

“If a municipality only gets to 38 percent, we’ll work with them. We are human,” said Tom Mumley, assistant executive director of the water board. “But if they don’t make a good faith effort, they have reason to be afraid. We will throw the book at them.”

Penalties range from $25,000 per day to $10 per pound of trash, which could total millions for ongoing violations, Mumley said.

The lone dissenting vote came from Shalom Eliahu, who was concerned about the financial burden on cities and towns. To ease the financial burden, the board scaled back parts of the plan, such as monitoring requirements and the frequency of street sweeping.

Municipalities now have more flexibility as to how they reach the goals, which remained unchanged, Mumley said.

“We’re clear that it’s about the ends, not the means,” he said.

The requirements step up gradually, mandating a 70 percent reduction in seven years and a 100 percent elimination of storm water trash in 12 years.

Plastic bags, chemicals, candy wrappers and other pollutants hurt wildlife and clog creeks and other waterways. A Texas-sized patch of garbage is floating in the Pacific between Hawaii and San Francisco.

The requirements, which are among the toughest in the country, apply to cities and towns in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and the Fairfield-Suisun area. It goes into effect Dec. 1.

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