San Jose agreed to spend $100 million over the next decade to curb the amount of trash, bacteria and sewage that flows into local waterways and the San Francisco Bay.
The agreement settles a lawsuit filed a year ago by Baykeeper, a local conservation group that claimed the city broke federal law by not doing enough to prevent tons of garbage, human waste and other filth from coursing into Coyote Creek, the Guadalupe River and their tributaries.
“[We’re] proud to have reached an agreement that will not only reduce harmful pollution in San Francisco Bay, but also makes San Jose a greener place to call home,” Baykeeper director Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in a statement.
City Attorney Rick Doyle recommended the settlement to avoid costly litigation. The City Council approved the plan in a 10-1 vote Tuesday with Councilman Johnny Khamis dissenting.
“This group has used federal law to extort money out of the city and I am not voting to settle with them,” Khamis said from the dais.
State records unearthed by Baykeeper tallied 780 sewage spills in San Jose from 2009 to 2014—523,000 gallons in all. Most of the waste ran through storm drains and creeks, which have been impacted by large homeless camps. Adding to the effluent are 2,100 miles of sewage pipes, most of them made of cracked clay pipes.
According to San Jose’s environmental officials, the city already planned to tackle the problem and has cut the number of sewage spills to about 100 a year.
As part of the agreement, formally called a consent decree, the city has to fix or replace 6.5 miles of sewer pipes every year for the next decade. It also has to build underground garbage filters, monitor levels of fecal bacteria and reduce trash in creeks by 80 percent of 2009 levels.
In addition, the city will have to build “green infrastructure” to filter stormwater runoff before it pours into rivers and streams. Urban stormwater runoff—rainfall that flows from streets, roofs, parking lots and other hard surfaces—is considered one of the biggest pollutants in the San Francisco Bay.
Mayor Sam Liccardo directed city staff to drum up a list of ways to pay for the costs, which may require new fees, bonds, grants or voter-approved taxes.
“We look forward to our partnership with Baykeeper to build on existing efforts to keep our creeks and Bay clean,” said Kerrie Romanow, director of San Jose’s Environmental Services Department. “Through this new agreement with Baykeeper, San Jose will further its efforts in managing stormwater runoff in an environmentally-sensitive manner.”