The regional water utility for the East Bay, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), said last week that its systems experienced several sewer overflows amid the New Year’s Eve storms, prompting calls from Bay Area environmental advocates for greater investment into wastewater infrastructure, KTVU reported.

EBMUD said in a statement that several of the sewage treatment plants it oversees overflowed multiple times in Oakland and Alameda on Dec. 31, 2022. The utility described these overflows as “sanitary sewer overflows,” which are when “sanitary sewer” storage and treatment systems — meant to treat human waste from toilets, showers, and sinks — are overwhelmed by rain.

KTVU reported that the locations of the overflows included one near the San Leandro Creek in Oakland, one at a structure in Alameda flowing into the Oakland estuary near the Barnhill Marina, and another at the Oakland estuary at the foot of Alice Street. Additionally, manholes reportedly overflowed with more sewage near 1056 Eastshore Highway in Albany; at Page Street and 2nd Street in Berkeley; and at Broadway and Clement Avenue in Alameda.

Sanitary Sewer Collection System Map via City of Oakland.

EBMUD told KTVU that its sewage system is designed to overflow when it is inundated by runoff water and it was operating as it was supposed to. Still, EBMUD said that it was collecting water quality samples and posting advisory signs at these locations to warn the public to avoid water contact.

Additionally, people are encouraged to stay out of the Bay and local bodies of water that feed into the Bay for at least 72 hours after a major storm ends, Bay City News also reported.

In response, the local nonprofit San Francisco Baykeeper released a statement calling out the danger of sewage in urban environments like the Bay Area and calling on municipalities to upgrade the region’s mostly decades-old sewage treatment infrastructure.

“The agency [EBMUD] has already possibly released millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage directly into the Bay, with even more rains on the way…Sewage pollution contains bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens that can make people sick and can kill fish and other wildlife,” the statement read.

Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh also said in the statement that “the Bay Area’s sewage treatment plants are sorely outdated.”

With more storms on the way next week, Choksi-Chugh noted that the Bay’s sewage treatment system cannot handle the climate change-fueled increasing frequency and intensity of regular winter storms.

Read More: Rainy Saturday Will Be a Mild Preview of More Storms to Come Next Week [SFist]

“There’s a two-part solution that requires significant infrastructure investments,” she continued. “First, sewage pipes need to be repaired, updated, and maintained to prevent large volumes of storm water from entering the sewer system. And more importantly, sewage treatment plants need to be updated so that they’re not discharging raw sewage into the Bay.”

With long-term upgrades yet to be announced, EBMUD said that it was prepared for the coming rains and had staff ready to respond 24/7, according to KTVU.

Image via Unsplash/Jim Harris.