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U.S. EPA orders Oakland to reduce sewer spills

Release Date: 4/28/2004
Contact Information: Laura Gentile, 415/947-4227 (, cell 415/760-9161

SAN FRANCISCO -- Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city of Oakland to reduce sewer spills from its sewage collection system.

Between January 1998 and September 2002 the city of Oakland reported 1,330 sewage spills, 43 of which entered local waters. The EPA inspected and audited the city's sewage collection operations and is now requiring Oakland to take aggressive steps to reduce the number of spills to the San Francisco Bay, including sewer pipe cleaning, repair and replacement.

Failure to comply with the terms of the order could result in fines of up to $27,500 per day.

"We are looking to Oakland to strengthen its program and substantially reduce the number of spills to protect the San Francisco Bay," said Alexis Strauss, director of the EPA's water division for the Pacific Southwest region. "We will continue our oversight of all sewage collection and treatment operations throughout California."

Most of the city's collection system is 50 to 100 years old with many deteriorated pipes. The replacement of portions of the system with large-diameter sewer pipes will be a long-term effort requiring significant capital to improve the infrastructure.

The EPA has determined a main cause of the spills is tree roots, as well as oil and grease intruding into the pipes. Roots create blockages and can cause structural damage and pipe failure, while grease and oil come primarily from fast-food restaurants and other commercial sources.

Oakland operates a 1,020 mile network of sewer pipes and pumping stations that collect sewage from homes and businesses. The number of spills reported by the city translates into an average spill rate of 28 spills per 100 miles of pipe. The Clean Water Act prohibits discharging raw sewage into waterways such as creeks and streams that flow into the San Francisco Bay.