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Mission Creek houseboat resident concerned about pollution from filthy San Francisco sewer runoff

Alarming amount of raw sewage and trash getting dumped into San Francisco's Mission Creek
Alarming amount of raw sewage and trash getting dumped into San Francisco's Mission Creek 05:30

The health of San Francisco Bay waters has prompted the state and federal government to take legal action, with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California suing the city of San Francisco over the amount of sewage being dumped into the bay. 

San Francisco uses a combined sewer system that collects and treats both wastewater and storm water in the same network of pipes. The problem is that in really heavy rain the system can overflow. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is being blamed for billions of gallons of sewage ending up in local waterways over the years.

The feds say that means water that has not been properly disinfected is being released into local creeks, the bay and onto beaches.

Bruno Heidrich has docked his boat along Mission Creek for more than 30 years in an area where a number of people live in houseboats. Mission Creek is just past the Giants' home at Oracle Park and through two drawbridges where Heidrich spends much of his time on his boat and around the water.

When asked if he would swim in the water near where he lives, he replied, "I don't like to. It is foul. If you swim in this water, you better take a shower afterwards."

It's no secret untreated sewage has been spilling into Mission Creek and into the bay after heavy rains. According to environmental watchdog nonprofit San Francisco Baykeeper everything gets dumped out into the creek. 

SF Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh says the sewage system gets overwhelmed.

"We are looking at houseboats in Mission Creek and these are people who live on the water," said Choksi-Chugh. "Anytime there is discharge from the PUC gates, from the creek, these homes are exposed to anything that is in the water. It's a pretty sad situation.  Anytime there is a heavy rainstorm there is massive amounts of discharge like trash and sewage, syringes and condoms."

"You get needles, you get syringes. You name it," said Heidrich.

This is not a new issue. It has been going on for decades, but the lawsuit filed by the EPA and SF Baykeeper is sounding the alarm.

In early March, SF Baykeeper notified San Francisco and the public utilities commission that they would be filing a lawsuit to hold them accountable for polluting the bay. Earlier this month, the EPA followed suit over violations of the Clean Water Act.  

"We have given the city many years and they haven't been able to do it. They have told us many times they have a master plan, and yet they continue to discharge," said Choksi-Chugh.

According to the lawsuit, the city has discharged an annual average of 1.8 billion gallons of combined sewage.

"I think it is beyond help. It's frustrating," said Heidrich.   

"I really hope they don't take this to court. We can come up with a solution that is better for the bay and for SF," said Choksi-Chugh.

But if a solution doesn't materialize, Heidrich says he may not ride out this wave.   

"I'm thinking about selling the boat and moving on," he said.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission called the lawsuit "unfortunate" in an emailed statement and said that "partnership and support" would be more helpful than litigation as it faces "costly infrastructure needs" amid a changing climate. 

The SFPUC added that it's investing "$1.5 billion to reduce nutrients, specifically total inorganic nitrogen, discharged into the bay" marking the "most consequential investment in nutrient reduction in the region."

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