Bay garbage a mounting problem

February 11, 2009 7:11:26 PM PST
In Oakland on Wednesday, there was a vote for the environment that critics say cities can ill afford. It is a matter of balancing priorities and timing.

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It's pretty from afar, but not up close. The Damon Slough in Oakland is part of a regional park, in name, and Wednesday it earned another designation from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board -- a garbage hot spot.

"You can't tell people to fix a problem until you prove that there is a problem," said engineer Will Bruhns.

Bruhns wrote the report on which the board voted -- a list of garbage polluted creeks and waterways from north to south that the board has now declared in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

"This list of creeks is so long that what people should really conclude is that the whole bay is trashed," said David Lewis with Save the Bay.

All the stuff we drop and don't send to the dump -- cigarette butts and papers that wash into storm drains, then creeks. Until now, the board had identified only Lake Merrit as being trash impaired.

"You should have been out there five years ago," said Bruhns.

Lake Merritt is better now because Oakland has spent more than a million dollars on the clean-up. Damon slough would cost even more, and that's the rub. If this list gets past the state to the Environmental Protection Agency, cities around the bay would be forced to spend tens of millions of dollars they don't have.

"If we don't address it we will be cited, and that's going to cost us even more," said Leslie Estes who manages waste watersheds for the City of Oakland. Even if cities get help from state and federal funds, she says the water board's timing could not have been worse.

The water board approved the list by 6 to 0, with no apologies for future expenditures.

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