SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --David Lewis runs the environmental group Save The Bay, and these days he's working to save it from trash.
"The Bay is actually choked with trash, and it's coming from the land, from all of us," says Lewis.
He says the problem often starts with storm drains, in cities like Oakland. This year's near record setting rains accelerated the big flush, sweeping tons of trash into the drains, and through creeks and estuaries like Damon Slough and ultimately into the bay.
"It's very easy to see along the shoreline. It's a visual blight but it's also poisoning the Bay and the fish and wildlife around the Bay.
But the trash that's washing into the bay isn't just an environmental hazard. It's now a state violation. And Bay Area cities could face stiff penalties. Five years ago the regional water quality control board mandated that cities with stormwater systems feeding into the bay, reduce the amount of trash 70 percent by July of this year, with a target of zero trash by 2022. They say Oakland is the largest city still struggling to meet the goal.
Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb has helped lead the anti-trash fight and says the city has taken some serious steps like installing trash catching filters at several drain sites. But he admits, they're not yet close to the goal.
"When are we going to get 99 percent compliance, I don't have an answer to that. I don't think anybody does. All I know is we're trying to up our game," says Kalb.
That includes expanding a new county ordinance, that bans most stores and businesses from using plastic bags.
Still critics have concerns. David Lewis says a recent budget proposal estimated that it will take $20 million to $25 million annually to get Oakland's stormwater system up to environmental standards, but it did not include a detailed plan or funding.
"Now if cities don't make these targets, not only is the Bay suffering, but they're liable for huge penalties and enforcement. This is a really top priority and cities need to get on the ball," says Lewis.
According to the law, those penalties could potentially rise to thousands of dollars a day and up. In the meantime, critics says a combination of gravity and future rains will continue to push a steady flow of trash towards San Francisco Bay.
Dan Kalb and other council members have asked city agencies for a specific plan and budget for fixing the storm water system -and hope to view the details next week at a public works committee meeting.
Written and produced by Tim Didion