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Lawsuits against Mountain View and Sunnyvale allege sewage water leaking into creeks and Bay

 
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Water flows down Stevens Creek by the Google Crittenden campus in Mountain View's North Bayshore area on March 4, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

An environmental watchdog group has filed lawsuits against the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale alleging that the cities' aging sewer systems are leaking bacteria from human feces into stormwater drainage systems, contaminating local creeks and ultimately the Bay.

Over the past few rainy seasons, San Francisco Baykeeper, a nonprofit that works to protect the Bay and its water quality, has sent scientists to measure the amounts of various bacteria that indicate the presence of human fecal waste. In some instances along Stevens Creek, the nonprofit found levels of those bacteria about 50 times higher the legal limits, Baykeeper reported on its blog.

The Mountain View suit alleges that the city's old sewage system, mostly made up of breakable clay pipes, has leaks that have released bacteria found in human feces into the city's stormwater drainage system. From that system, the bacteria are being discharged into Stevens Creek and other bodies of water that feed into the Bay.

The pollution has been going since at least 2014, according to a state study that identified the water as polluted, said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Baykeeper's executive director.

Eighty-nine percent of the sewage system is made up of clay pipes, which are susceptible to cracking and breaking, the suit claims. The sewage system is also aging: at least 26% of it is more than 60 years old, and at least 57% is more than 20 years old. More than a third of the system doesn't have a recorded age.

"Many of the two cities' older clay sewer pipes are cracked and probably leaking raw sewage into the stormwater pipes. The cities also have inadequate urban pollution controls, so that contaminants flow freely from streets into storm drains," the Baykeeper blog alleged.

Since the suits were filed last month, the cities have gotten in touch with Baykeeper, Choksi-Chugh said.

"Baykeeper is in conversation with Mountain View and Sunnyvale right now, and it's clear they want to do the right thing for their residents. We think things will go smoothly -- nobody wants to waste a lot of time in court!" Choksi-Chugh told the Mountain View Voice in an email.

The city of Mountain View is exploring steps to resolve the allegations, according to city spokesperson Shonda Ranson.

"The city of Mountain View is committed to the protection of the public's health, safety and welfare and the safe condition of local creeks. The city is carefully reviewing Baykeeper's allegations while continuing to meet with them and keeping an open dialogue. We are evaluating next steps with the goal of a timely and appropriate resolution," she said in a statement.

The ability for bacteria-laden water to enter local waterways is a common problem, said Lisa Horowitz McCann, an officer from the California Water Board's San Francisco Bay regional office. In particular, old sewer systems overflow when there are blockages in dry weather and capacity constraints in wet weather.

Such contamination events can lead to people being exposed to the bacteria, which can make them sick. The Bay is heavily used for recreational purposes, and people may be exposed through activities like swimming, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and windsurfing.

The presence of raw sewage in local waters also poses a health risk to anyone who might eat fish caught in those streams. "Contaminated fish are particularly damaging to ethnic and economic minority communities, who eat a greater-than-average amount of locally caught fish," the lawsuit claims.

Wildlife may also be impacted, but the risks to animals from human pathogens is lower than it is to other humans, McCann said.

Still, there are a number of endangered and protected species found along Stevens Creek and South San Francisco Bay that may be vulnerable to the contaminated water. The creek is one of the last remaining viable habitats for Central California Coast steelhead trout, and the creek's brackish reaches are home to the federally endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, according to the lawsuit.

San Jose and other cities along the Bay have had similar problems to Mountain View and Sunnyvale, said Choksi-Chugh. San Jose is working on addressing its sewage pollution, she added.

While no illnesses have been directly attributed to the fecal bacteria, sometimes such incidents are not reported or people don't know that polluted water has made them sick, she said.

"Then you have to consider the very real damage additional pollutants will cause to the Bay's already compromised health. We know the level of risk is unacceptably high, so it's the cities' responsibility to act now," she said.

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by People live and poop in the creeks
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 12:38 pm

I've seen the homeless camps and have stumbled across some heavily used open toilet areas up and down the creeks over the years. I've never seen as many as right now though. The creek IS their toilet.
Also, many RV-livers will drain toilet waste down sewage drains.
These are far more direct containment sources.

Clear the homeless camps and RVs and measure after next season. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts we would come out clean.
Broken clay pipes my butt. I guess that allows the group to sue the municipality more easily? We're all going to pay. SJ settled for $100M with the same group in 2016.

This will cost us dearly.


33 people like this
Posted by Nothing to see here
a resident of Bailey Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Just a story to distract from the negative effects that the "homeless population" has on our Eco system and and our community.

Remember Pat Showalther and Lenny Siegel wanted to expand the RV parking in our city into more residential areas before they were voted out of office.
They both are running again this November for city council, VOTE NO TO BOTH.


8 people like this
Posted by Stop it
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 1:56 pm

Stop with the Lenny/Showalter stuff on each and every story. It's lame and distracts. It's called hijacking a thread. It's what trolls do.

TOPIC: Which current council member has called for a sweep of our creeks? Why aren't they calling for cleaning the homeless camps/open toilets out of our creeks???


1 person likes this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Castro City
on Mar 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Did any of the commenters read the case complaint? It is talking about evidence showing the problem is not with the "homeless camps" but lack of maintenance on the sewage systems.

IT stated:

“The Mountain View suit alleges that the city's old sewage system, mostly made up of breakable clay pipes, has leaks that have released bacteria found in human feces into the city's stormwater drainage system. From that system, the bacteria are being discharged into Stevens Creek and other bodies of water that feed into the Bay.”

The way that can be proven to not be a “homeless camp” source is other trace chemicals that are present with the samples. Like household cleaners, shampoos, body washes. No information in this story indicated that it was scientifically proven that anyone living on the river banks are responsible for this problem.

I hate to say this, but it looks like your barking up the wrong tree, from what this report indicates. Also, the population that may exist on these riverbeds clearly is so much smaller than the rest of the Cities, statistically it is not feasible to have these people be the cause of this serious problem.

The city of Mountain View hosts as many as 150,000 every day using the sewage system, at least 70,000 for citizens alone. Compare that to perhaps as little as less than 500 people living next to the rivers. They can only contribute as much as 0.7% regarding the living population as 0.3% including all the people who use the sewage system on a daily basis. But that is based on only 1 single use of the sewage system of the numbers I just counted.

Simply put, you’re trying to divert attention from the real problem, the sewage system need repairs.


11 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 4:24 pm

I think the city should be sued. If they can show that the problem isn't from our old clay pipes, then at least it'll prove that there's a problem with people dumping their waste into the creeks. Also I wonder where the RVs unload their black water tanks?


11 people like this
Posted by Deuce in the creek beds
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2020 at 9:49 pm

I can personally attest to the volume of deuce in the creek beds. My son and I went down to San Francisquito creek when it was dry summer before last to do some metal detecting and came across a single homeless person’s tarp shelter (which we reported for cleanup - thank you Menlo Park for responding quickly). In the creek bed below it we encountered a stench like you wouldn’t believe and numerous massive and disgusting piles right in the creek bed. Based on simple smell test, I’d wager that one person’s contribution to the creek pollution outweighed thousands of residents in the surrounding area. Now multiply that by the entire homeless population living in the area...


Like this comment
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Castro City
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:58 am

In response to Deuce in the Creek Beds, I guess you didn't see what I wrote earlier:

I am increasing my estimated homeless poopulation living in the creeks of Mountain View to as much as ONE THOUSAND.


The city of Mountain View hosts as many as ONE HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND every day using the sewage system, at least SEVENTY THOUSAND for citizens alone. Compare that to perhaps as little as less than FIVE HUNDRED TO ONE THOUSAND people living next to the rivers. They can only contribute as much as ONE POINT FIVE PERCENT regarding the living population as ZERO POINT 7 PERCENT including all the people who use the sewage system on a daily basis. But that is based on only 1 single use of the sewage system of the numbers I just counted.

INSTEAD OF TRYING TO FIX THE SEWAGE PROBLEM YOU ARE TRYING TO PUT THE BLAME ON A PROCESS THAT CAN HARDLY MAKE A DENT REGARDING THE TOTAL PROBLEM.


6 people like this
Posted by Vote coming up
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 9:19 am

A vote to uphold MV's new rules regarding RVs is coming up. Please vote!
We can now all see how important this is on many levels.


Like this comment
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 5, 2020 at 10:31 pm

@Vote Coming Up. The lawsuits are said to allege pollution from aging sewer systems - not RV dwellers. But if you have pictures or other evidence of some other source of pollution, post the evidence and provide a link.


8 people like this
Posted by Oh that smell
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2020 at 8:59 am

The RVs that are parked behind and around NobHill have a pungent urine odor surrounding them. The piles of tp and stench of human waste near the trail at the edge of Landels tell the story. The piles of TP and stench of human waste at the tunnels under 237 tell another story, in fact there are many similar stories because of many similar sites.

I will absolutely support any activity that cleans out our streets and creeks from ALL sources. I guess that makes me a revolutionary.


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