Healthy bay, healthy communities

Stroll along the Oakland Estuary, pedal the waterfront path linking Emeryville and Richmond, or ramble at the Albany Bulb. San Francisco Bay’s eastern shore beckons, its health improved by two landmark developments reaching notable anniversaries.

EBMUD’s wastewater treatment plant near the foot of the Bay Bridge turned 70 this year. Wastewater is produced with every shower, wash and toilet flush, not to mention commercial and industrial processes. In the 1930s and ‘40s, raw sewage emptied directly into the bay and created a reeking mess known as the “Big Stench.” When brought into operation in 1952, EBMUD’s plant treated wastewater from six cities and marked the first coordinated effort to handle sewage generated by East Bay communities.

1940s, Berkeley: Raw sewage was discharged to San Francisco Bay without treatment.

1940s, Berkeley: Raw sewage was discharged to San Francisco Bay without treatment.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, which regulates pollution discharges and quality standards for surface waters nationwide. 

In response to the legislation, EBMUD upgraded its plant with the help of state and federal funds to provide secondary treatment. This includes using microorganisms to break down waste, settling out heavy particles, and killing viruses and bacteria before safely discharging wastewater a mile offshore.

Emerging challenges require additional work. EBMUD continues to fund scientific studies – $14 million contributed to date – and collaborate with regulators and regional stakeholders to determine the correlation between nutrient discharges and bay water quality and to develop effective management solutions.

The best solution to pollution is to prevent it from going down the drain in the first place. That’s where you can help.

  • Scrape cooking fats, oil and grease into the trash rather than your sink.
  • Dispose of expired and unwanted medications at designated collection sites.
  • Don’t flush chemicals, wipes or other garbage down the toilet.
  • And if you own a home, inspect your private sewer lateral for leaks to ensure stormwater stays out.

Together we can support a healthy bay environment.

EBMUD’s wastewater treatment plant provides an invaluable public service for 740,000 people along the bay’s eastern shore. Learn more and take a virtual tour at